NSIC TOURNAMENT: Sioux Falls Upends Top Seed Moorhead

Defending Women's Tournament Champs Win 54-45

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -– The University of Sioux Falls Women’s Basketball Team (21-7) played the role of defending league tournament champion to a tee by using shutdown defense and another double from all-league center Sam Knecht to upset #1 seed MSU Moorhead, 54-45 on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NSIC Sanford Health Women’s Basketball Tournament.


With the victory, USF advanced to the tournament semifinals for the second straight season. After winning the tournament a year ago and adding two more victories in the 2017 tourney, USF has a six-game winning streak. They are 8-3 overall in NSIC tourney play. Next, USF will face Wayne State in the conference semifinals at noon on Monday, Feb. 27 at the Sanford Pentagon.


“I am just really proud of this team,” said USF head women’s basketball coach Travis Traphagen, USF’s all-time wins leader at 177 victories. “They really worked hard and stayed with our game plan. Their work on the defensive end was really great. And, Sam Knecht, what else can you say about her? She was fantastic and hard to stop inside. I am just glad she is on our side,” he said.


USF, which led 16-7 after the first quarter and 29-19 at halftime, held a three-point lead after MSUM outscored the Cougars, 17-10 in the third quarter. Then, USF had a game-deciding 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter, building a 52-36 lead (5:22). MSUM pulled within seven at 52-45 with 2:13 to play but could get no closer.


The Cougars entered play as the league’s top defense and showed it from the opening tip to the final tick of the clock. A major part of the defense revolves around the team’s relentless hustle, which resulted in gaining control of nearly every loose ball all day. Perhaps best epitomizing the play of USF occurred on their final possession. After a turnover by MSUM, USF had three straight offensive rebounds, including two by Jacey Huinker, who had 11 on the game, and ran out the clock.


“That game-ending sequence really showed the type of commitment this team made today,” said Traphagen.


As for Knecht, a senior from Platte, S.D., she recorded her 25th career double double with her 12th of the season. She knocked down 11-of-20 shots for 25 points while blocking five shots, and grabbing 11 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. With her point total, she now has 1,289 points, which is 10th all-time at USF. Her 171 career blocks is a school record.


Knecht, who was named Thursday to the NSIC All-League squad and All-Defensive Team, stymied MSUM inside all day. She had five blocked shots for the fifth time this year. In fact, USF held the league’s Player of the Year, Drew Sannes, to eight points and four rebounds. In fact, USF, which handed MSUM two of its four losses on the season, held Sannes to a combined 19 points in the two games this season. As proof to USF’s work on defense was a 16-4 edge in points off turnovers and 11-8 margin in second chance points.  Plus, they held MSUM to 29.4 percent from the field (15-of-51) and didn’t allow a three-point field goal as the Dragons were 0-11.


Also for USF, senior guard Alyson Johnsen had 10 points, including a pair of big second half three-pointers. She added two steals and three rebounds. Senior point guard Madi Robson added seven assists while senior guard Brooke Smith provided eight points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals off the bench.


Overall, USF hit 21-of-55 shots for 38.2 percent, including 5-of-21 from three point range. While USF was outscored 15-to-7 on free throws and loss the rebounding battle, 38-37, they committed just 10 turnovers while forcing 13 by MSUM. Led by Knecht, USF had six total blocks and six steals.

USF dominated the play in the opening quarter as Knecht had six points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. After Knecht hit her second straight jumper, USF led, 4-2 (8:04).


Later, Smith provided a lift off the bench by hitting a three. Huinker converted fast break lay-up and Knecht scored her sixth point as USF took a 14-4 lead.  Shortly thereafter, Smith, who had six points in the quarter, scored again on a reverse layup inside for a 16-4 lead with 1:56 to play. Jacky Volker made a running hook shot at the first quarter buzzer to keep MSUM within 16-7 at the quarter break.


Early in the second quarter, Robson’s only basket of the game (6:38) provided USF with a 20-7 advantage. After the Dragons cut the lead to eight, Knecht converted inside for a 22-12 lead with 4:22 to play. Two free throws from Cassidy Thorson again reduced USF’s lead to 22-16 with 2:15 to play. However, USF responded with a 7-1 run, including a triple from freshman Mariah Szymanksi and a jumper from Knecht for a 29-17 lead with 48 seconds left.


USF, which led 29-19 at halftime, was 13-of-28 from the floor for 46.4 percent, but just 2-of-9 from three point range. Free throw shooting hurt USF in the opening two quarters as they made just 1-of-6. Still, USF’s defense didn’t give MSUM much room to generate any offense.


The Cougars put the clamps on MSUM which made just 6-of-26 from the floor for 23.1 percent. MSUM, outrebounded 22-16 by the Cougars, didn’t make a three in seven attempts but stayed in it with 7-of-10 from the foul line. Cassidy Thorson and Jacky Volkert had five to lead MSUM.


MSUM opened the third quarter with six straight points to cut USF’s lead to 29-25 with 8:24 to play. Each time the Dragons drew close, USF, through Knecht, had an answer. She converted a three-point play to push USF’s lead back to 32-25 with seven minutes to play in the quarter. MSUM again made a run at USF, drawing within 34-32 after a three-point play by Megan Hintz.  Smith came up big for USF with an offensive rebound off a free throw and her put back gave USF a 37-32 lead. At the third quarter break, USF owned a 39-36 lead.


In the fourth quarter, USF had the game defining run, ripping off a 13-0 advantage for a 52-36 lead with 5:14 left when freshman Andi Mataloni knocked down a three-pointer. In that run Johnsen dropped in two straight triples to energize USF.


After USF led by 16, MSUM had a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 52-45 with 2:13 to play. But Knecht made a pair of free throws with 1:53 left and then after a turnover, USF ran out the clock with three consecutive offensive rebounds.

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