VERMILLION, S.D.—South Dakota forced 20 turnovers, produced 15 steals and made life miserable for Omaha offensively in a 61-41 win Thursday inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center. It was the Coyotes’ 12th consecutive win in the series.
Grace Larkins and Walker Demers led South Dakota (12-14, 8-7 Summit) with 14 and 11 points, respectively, and both finished one rebound shy of a double-double. Larkins also had a career-high six steals and handed out four assists.
Omaha (12-15, 7-9 Summit) got a career-high 21 points from sophomore Kennedi Grant, but made 12-of-47 shots during the game including 4-of-20 three-pointers.
“I can’t speak enough about our defensive effort tonight, “said USD head coach Kayla Karius. “I thought we had great focus and executed the game plan and I am really proud of our players.”
South Dakota outscored Omaha 17-0 during a span of more than 12 minutes in the first half and took a 29-18 lead into the break. The Mavericks missed 14 consecutive shots during the run and committed seven turnovers. The Coyotes made six of their eight 3-point shots in the first half to build their lead.
Grant had eight points in the first half and doubled that tally less than four minutes into the second. Her two free throws with 6:36 left in the third quarter cut the deficit to 31-26. That’s as close as Omaha got the rest of the way.
USD guard Macy Guebert was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and it was her third triple that answered Grant’s rally. Later she found Nicole Avila-Ambrosi open for a 3 and that sparked South Dakota’s offense. Avila-Ambrosi scored seven of her 10 points in the third quarter and was a true disrupter throughout the second half. She played 15 minutes after the break, made all three shots she took, had two blocks by the basket and stole three passes. Her final line totaled three blocks, four steals and two assists.
“I love the three that Nicole took in transition and knocked it down,” said Karius. “And then on defense, man or zone, she was so active and she’s always moving her feet, her hands are ready. For her to get three blocks and four steals, I thought she made a lot of smart plays tonight.”
The other big headline was the job South Dakota did as a team guarding Omaha’s leading scorer Elena Pilakouta, who ranks seventh nationally in field goal percentage. She was held without a field goal for the second time all season and played just six minutes in the second half when Omaha tried to break through with a smaller lineup. Pilakouta was 0-for-2, totaled two points and four rebounds with three turnovers in 19 minutes. Omaha’s other three starters – Aaliyah Stanley, Sam Mitchell and Grace Cave – combined to make 4-of-23 shots.
“Pilakouta really commanded out attention and we certainly bottled her up in the first half with terrific team defense,” said Karius. “I was really proud of our effort, keeping the ball out of her hands or when it got to her, not allowing her to be successful either scoring or passing out of it. I loved how much we swarmed her and had so much attention on her and I think their game plan had to change midway through the game.”
Omaha went without a field goal throughout the final five minutes of the third quarter and the first five minutes of the fourth. South Dakota had a 51-31 lead after that stretch and waltzed to the win from there. South Dakota moved into a tie for fourth place in the Summit League standings with three games to play.
The Coyotes are one game back of North Dakota State and North Dakota. USD hosts Denver at 1 p.m. Saturday inside the Sanford Coyote Sport Center in its final home game of the regular season.