|Posted March 14, 2008|
ThunderWolves fall 66-55 to South Dakota
There was no shortage of confidence on the ThunderWolves team all week long as they prepared for top-seed South Dakota in the NCAA Division II national tournament Friday. Unfortunately for the Pack, they didn't know how to react when that confidence plummeted.
After jumping out to a 16-10 lead in the first half and momentarily stunning the homestanding Coyotes, South Dakota regrouped to hang a 16-2 run on the ThunderWolves. And in a nutshell, the cold streak, as well as the raucous crowd of 2,570 USD supporters, was too much to weather, as the Pack saw its run in the NCAA District II National Tournament come to a premature end with a 66-55 loss to the Coyotes Friday.
"We haven't been faced with a spark like that (in the ThunderWolves' recent five-game winnings streak)," junior Mary Rehfeld said. "We didn't know what to do, and we didn't want to let them take the game away from us."
The ThunderWolves were trailing 35-23 at half, and were victimized even further when South Dakota opened up the second half with an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 19, the highest of the game. The Coyotes did it my effectively neutralizing the Pack's top threat, senior Lindsay Black, who was held without a field goal in the first half for the first time all season, eventually ending up with 11 points and eight rebounds. The Coyotes also beat the Pack at their own game - defense - registering more shot blocks (6-4), steals (10-1) and rebounds (40-34). Of the Coyotes' 40 boards, 16 of them were on the offensive glass.
"That really was one of the keys to the games," Pack coach Kip Drown said. "It kept us from never quite getting a run because they had a lot of second and third shots."
The ThunderWolves were trailing by 17 with 5:44 remaining, and decided that on a wing and a prayer, they weren't going to end their season by rolling over and playing dead.
The Pack ended the game with an 11-5 run, closing the lead to as close as eight with 2:45 remaining, but lacked the nearly perfect game required to come back from such a deficit so late in the game.
"We got back on our heels, and we were looking for the composure to make a comeback," senior Lindsay Black said. "In the second half, we wanted to battle until the very end."
And battled they did, only losing by 11 and leaving the court with their head held high, but still dejected that the "W" didn't come their way, especially when you consider that South Dakota only shot 41 percent from the field, and just 36 percent in the first half.
"[South Dakota] didn't shoot the ball well, but we have to take advantage of those opportunities," Drown said. "But we didn't play our best out there tonight, and we didn't do the things we had to do to win."
South Dakota coach Chad Lavin, an elder statesman of basektball at USD who plans to retire following the Coyotes' playoff run this season after 30 years on sidelines, said he was impressed with the ThunderWolves' effort.
"If they got going when it was 16-10, I'm not sure what we would've done," Lavin said. "It was frustrating for us when we went up by 19 and we couldn't put it away, and I give them credit. They showed fortitude. Rehfeld hit some big shots and kept them right in it."
Forced to find the silver lining, the Pack can take solace in a few things. First and foremost, they made their second showing in the national tournament in three seasons, and a bulk of the team will return for 2008-09, including three starters. Losing exemplary players like Black and point guard Kaylon Miller will hurt immensely, but the experience level coming into next season will be second to none for the Pack if they are to get over the hump and qualify for the tournament higher than an eight-seed.
"We need to strive for that better seed next year," Drown said. "We need to take care of business and beat a few more people early on in the season. This is just another step, and we'll try to take all the postives we can and build on them."
The ThunderWolves ended their season with a 21-10 mark, their most wins in school history, and finished the season having broken school records in three-pointers made (237), blocked shots (140), and individual records for Lindsay Black, who broke the marks for most blocks in a season with 70.