By Wayne Otto
College Basketball Columnist
College Sports Journal
PORTSMOUTH, VA – The Summit League commissioner Tom Douple could barely hold back the smiles of relief and joy with the smug look he was trying to hold after the first women’s basketball tournament session of the 2015 Summit League basketball tournament.
Douple was getting a quick dinner in the media room between tournament sessions and had a reason to feel joyous.
The Summit League tournament has been called by USA Today “college basketball’s best kept secret”. It might not be the best kept secret anymore.
The tournament moved to Sioux Falls, SD seven years ago and has had a great run in the 6,878 seat Sioux Falls Arena, setting numerous tournament attendance records for both men and women along the way.
Douple’s moniker “March to the Summit” might have been a prophecy of things to come for the Summit.
The tournament moved into the brand new T. Denny Sanford Premier Center, next door to the old Arena and promply set the tournament women’s single session attendance record of 8,171.
The new mark eclipsed the previous record of 5,871 set last year during the semifinals. The 8,171 mark was by far the highest attended mid-major women’s tournament this year.
Douple is confident that this year will break the all-tournament attndance record of 21,158 set in 2013.
Top seed South Dakota opened up tournament play with a 78-70 win over the Fort Wayne Mastadons.
2013 tournament MVP Nicole Seekamp poured in 25 points and dished out 8 assists to lead the Coyotes (24-6) in a tightly contested game.
The Dons (9-21) used 21 points and 5 assists from Haley Seibert and 20 points off thebench from Kamilah Carter to hold a 34-33 lead at halftime.
Raeshel Contreras hit a 3 pointer to open the second half for the Coyotes to take a 36-34 lead. A steal and layup by Seekamp extended the lead to 38-34. Carter hit a 3 pointer for the Dons to stop the quick USD run.
Kate Liveringhouse hit a free throw at the 15:25 mark to take the game’s biggest lead at 11, 50-39.
The Dons battled back to finally take the lead 64-62 on two free throws by Seibert.
A layup by Seekamp at the 4:12 mark and another layup by Seekamp on USD’s next possession put the Coyotes up for good at 66-64 with 3:36 to play and end Fort Wayne’s season.
The number one seed has never lost a quarterfinal game. The eight point final margin was the closest for a 1 vs. 8 matchup since 2002 which was a five point margin.
South Dakota improves to 6-1 all-time in tournament history and is on a four game win streak.
The Coyotes will play the winner of tomorrow’s Western Illinois-IUPUI game on Monday at 12 noon CST.
The second seeded South Dakota Jackrabbits (22-8), who have won 5 of the last 6 Summit League championship tournaments, pulled away late in the second half to stop the Denver Pioneers (8-23) 79-61.
Megan Waytashek led the Jacks with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists and was 4-6 from 3 point range.
Mariah Clarin chipped in with 13 points and Macy Miller had 11.
The Jacks out rebounded the Pioneers 40-31 and out shot them 46% to 40%.
A 3 pointer by Miller put SDSU up 11-2 at 16:26 until a Denver run capped by a Jacqlyn Poss jumper tied the game at 15 at 11:03.
A layup by Jordan Johnston gave the Pioneers their first of only two leads for the game at 17-15.
Waytashek scored 17 of her game high 21 points in the first half as the Jacks built a 41-34 halftime lead.
The Pioneers weren’t finished. After back to back 3’s by Morg Van Riper-Rose and Jordan Johnston, a Jacks turnover by Mariah Clarin turned into a jumper by Jacqlyn Poss that gave Denver its second and last lead of the day at 42-41.
A jump shot by Alexis Alexander at 16:14 put the Jacks up 43-42 and never looked back in route to the final 79-61 tally as the doubled up the Pioneers 38-19 in the final 16:14 to advance to the semi-finals.
The Jacks, who are 16-1 all time in the tournament, will play the winner of Oral Roberts-North Dakota State on Monday at 2:30.