College women's basketball: Jackrabbits build momentum for conference play despite loss to Washington State

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BROOKINGS — South Dakota State wasn’t able to take down Washington State in a 64-60 loss to the 21st-ranked Cougars that snapped a 16-game winning streak at Frost Arena on Tuesday night, but the Jackrabbits feel like they are building momentum and playing with confidence as conference play looms at the end of the month.

“We’re a better team now than we were a few weeks ago,” SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston explained. “I see a lot of improvements. It didn’t show up by winning today and unfortunately, sometimes you’re losing. But you still learn and grow and that’s where our team is.”

The Jacks had some issues early in the game as the Cougars opened on an 11-2 run. SDSU shot just 22 percent from the field in the first quarter as Washington State took a 17-9 lead but the Jacks scored the first five points of the second quarter to cut the lead down to 17-14 before Washington State went on an 8-3 run to take a 25-17 lead into the media timeout and a 30-24 lead into halftime.

Although Washington State held a 48-40 lead going into the fourth quarter and ran its lead up to 10 points on a pair of free throws from Astera Tuhina with 8:35 to play, SDSU made a 9-0 run highlighted by a Brooklyn Meyer lay up with 5:06 to go.

“I thought we looked really uncertain and unsettled early in the game,” Johnston said. “...We had a lot of plays that just weren’t great plays, but our team didn’t fold. They stayed together and they showed some resiliency and that was really good to see. Those are things you can build and grow from.”

Washington State responded with an 8-2 run capped by Ellonora Villa’s 3-pointer that gave the Cougars a 60-53 lead with 2:33 in regulation and although the Jacks came within four points in the final minute, a key turnover by when Madysn Vlastuin wasn’t ready for the ball and a missed 3-pointer by Paige Meyer on the next possession allowed Washington State to put the game away for the victory.

Despite the loss, Paige Meyer was one of the positives for the Jackrabbits. In her third game back from injury, the junior put up a game-high 23 points to go with three assists and three rebounds while fueling SDSU’s comeback bid in the second half.

“I think we were in it the whole game,” Paige Meyer said. “We didn’t execute a few plays there but we believed that we were in it the whole time. We wish we would have executed a few more plays, but we’re right there.”

Brooklyn Meyer was another positive despite a difficult matchup against Washington State’s Bella Murekatete. Murekatete was a preseason All-Pac 12 selection and on the watchlist for the Lisa Leslie Award as the nation’s top center and the Naismith Player of the Year Award, but Brooklyn Meyer recovered from a slow start to score 16 points and pull down seven rebounds.

“I thought she struggled a little bit there because every team has played us a little different,” Johnston said. “They were obviously doubling Brooklyn on the low side and we haven’t quite had that this year. It took some time to got comfortable and they caused problems with that but then I think as the game went on she got a little bit more confident down there.”

Johnston went on to say that Brooklyn Meyer should continue to get better as the season goes along.

“I think Brooklyn is really one of the best post players around, not just at South Dakota State,” Johnston said. “She’ll continue to grow her confidence too and just get more comfortable with the different ways teams are trying to stop her and what she needs to do. I think she’ll continue to progress but she did some really good things for us today.”

Madison Mathiowetz had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Jacks while Tori Nelson added six points, two rebounds and two assists.

Murekatete finished with 15 points and seven rebounds for the Cougars while Astera Tuhina finished with 18 points and four rebounds. Villa finished with 13 points, three rebounds and two assists and Tara Wallack finished with 11 points and five rebounds.

WSU shot 45.1 percent for the game while going 6-for-22 (27.3%) from 3-point range and 17-for-24 (70.8%) from the free throw line. South Dakota State shot 40 percent for the game including 3-for-12 from the 3-point line. The Jacks also shot 17-for-21 (81%) from the free throw line.

The loss saw the Jacks sink to 4-3 on the season as they continue their non-conference schedule with a trip to Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon. While the Jacks would have liked to have picked up the win, they can’t help but see the positives and hope it continues as they trend toward Summit League play.

“We don’t want to really use this as a moral victory, but it shows the potential our team has,” Brooklyn Meyer said. “I felt like we didn’t play our best today and I think we can just use it as confidence going forward that we can play our best and compete with those kinds of teams.”