College Women's Basketball

South Dakota State looks to keep things rolling on road against Denver, St. Thomas

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BROOKINGS — The South Dakota State women are two wins away from winning at least a share of their 10th Summit League regular season title. To do so the Jackrabbits will have to beat Denver on Thursday and St. Thomas on Saturday.

SDSU (20-5, 12-0) has won 43-straight regular season games against Summit League opponents so to fans it may seem like clinching the conference regular season title will be easy work, but for SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston and his players that streak is nowhere near the front of their minds.

“I don’t know what the number is [for the Summit League win streak],” Johnston said. “Somewhere in the 40’s, because someone a few weeks ago said it was the 40th. It’s another achievement, but it’s not something that we keep talking about. It really isn’t. I don’t want it to be something that becomes a weight or a burden to carry. We’re going to try to play well on Thursday because it’s our next game and it’s an important one.”

The Jacks are in the midst of a 14-game overall win streak and they’re not just beating teams, they’re dismantling them. During the win streak SDSU is beating teams by an average of 18.5 points per game and in the Jacks’ 12 conference games this season they’re beating opponents by 20.3 points.

SDSU is leading the conference in field goal percentage in conference play, shooting 48.6% from the field. The Jacks are second in 3-point field goal percentage at 37.8%, which is only behind North Dakota State who is shooting 37.9%.

Johnston said since the beginning of this win streak his team has been efficient on offense and is more comfortable and confident in their shot selection.

“Our shot selection has been really good. I think that’s been a huge improvement for us. Early in the year I think we were still finding that rhythm and where people are going to score and what’s the best way to find good offense. Right now, I feel like we’re in such a good rhythm with how we score, who we are and what our identity is on offense,” Johnston said.

SDSU’s defense has been even more impressive in conference play. The Jacks are holding teams to 36.9% shooting from the field and 24.7% from three. Both of which are four or more percentage points ahead of the second place team in those categories. For the season, SDSU ranks 13th in the country in 3-point defense, holding teams to 26.2% from beyond the arc.

Johnston said his perimeter defense has been so good because of the work that his post players have done inside. Sophomore forward Brooklyn Meyer anchors the SDSU defense down low and she averages a Summit League best two blocks per game.

“I think our perimeter defense has been really good, but I think defense for us always starts with how we want to defend the post and interior stuff,” Johnston said. “This year we’ve been pretty lucky with Brooklyn, who I think is one of the best defensive players in our conference. … With our interior defense, we’re able to defend a lot of players one-on-one in there and we don’t have to help and don’t have to scramble.

“That allows our perimeter players to be a little more focused on their area and I think that’s helped our perimeter defense. [Our perimeter players] are doing a great job of limiting dribble penetration. That’s a huge part of college basketball right now. … Our defense has been there throughout the year. That’s been a huge highlight for us and I’m excited and proud of the effort our team puts into that.”

The only thing you could point to that the Jackrabbits need to work on is taking care of the ball. SDSU is averaging 14.9 turnovers per game. That number is middle of the pack in the Summit League, but Johnston said the turnover issue is something that the team has addressed and if they get it fixed they will be even harder to stop on offense.

“When we take care of the ball, that gives us a chance to be really efficient. You still have to make shots, but really turnovers have been the one area of our offense that still holds us back. We recognize that and we’re going to work hard on that and all of us play a role in that. But when we take care of the ball, I think we have a good plan and a good idea of where we want to score right now,” Johnston said.

Thursday’s game at Denver is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and you can watch the game on the Summit League Network. The Pioneers (7-19, 4-9) are in seventh place in the conference and have lost their past two games. SDSU beat Denver 68-50 at Frost Arena on Jan. 13.

Saturday’s game in St. Paul against St. Thomas is scheduled for 1 p.m. The Tommies (14-12, 6-6) are in fifth place in the Summit League, but have lost three-straight heading into the weekend. The Jacks beat the Tommies 75-55 in Brookings on Jan. 11. You can watch this game on SLN as well.