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NCAA Women: Aussies roll into NIT semifinal
The Aussie representation in the NCAA Tournament has come to an end, as Alanna Smith’s Stanford and Kristy Wallace’s Baylor both fell in the Elite Eight. However there are still Australians in the hunt for a trophy. South Dakota's Jasmine Trimboli and Nicole Seekamp will take on Jacinta Vandenberg and Oregon in the NIT semifinals after both teams got through the week with two wins, but not without scares as both teams survived nail-biters.
Kristy Wallace and Baylor looked to be the best chance of seeing an Australian in the Final Four, but their run was brought to a half in the Elite Eight by Oregon State. The Lady Bears easily dealt with Florida State in the Sweet 16, with Wallace contributing 8 points and 4 rebounds in a 78-58 victory. Rachel Antoniadou again saw only a token minute or so in the dying embers of the game for Florida State. The victory saw Baylor take on Oregon State in front of a partisan crowd in nearby Dallas.
The hostile atmosphere did little to faze Oregon State, as the Beavers started strongly. Baylor were clearly not at their best in their first half, leading to a trademark Kim Mulkey jacket throw, which ended with the jacket in the second row and Oregon State at the free throw line as the Baylor head coach earned a technical foul for her trouble. Baylor went into halftime down 34-25, but came out firing to start the second half. The Lady Bears won the third quarter 22-14 to cut the Oregon State lead to a solitary point. The teams traded blows throughout the final quarter, but with the score at 58-57 and Baylor with the ball for the final shot of the game, the resulting play ended in a poor shot and Oregon State converted free throws in the last few seconds to seal a 60-57 victory. Wallace saw herself in foul trouble in what turned out to be limited minutes, finishing with 4 rebounds and 4 fouls.
Alanna Smith had been used sparingly in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and that trend continued as Stanford’s dream run was ended in the Elite 8. The freshman saw limited minutes in the Cardinal’s nail-biting victory over South Dakota State in the second round, finishing with 2 points and 2 rebounds as Stanford managed to sneak home 65-66.
The Sweet 16 brought one of women’s college basketball’s craziest days in tournament history, with #4 seed Stanford playing their part by dispatching top seed Notre Dame, 90-84. Unfortunately, Smith was not used in this game. The Elite 8 somehow saw Stanford enter as favourites as they took on #7 seeded Washington, with whom they’d split the season series to this point. However, the Huskies raced out to a 22-7 lead after one quarter, stifling the Stanford offence. Whilst Stanford slowly chipped away at the margin, Washington held on for an 85-76 victory. Smith again saw limited minutes off the bench, finishing with 5 points and 2 rebounds in the final game of her freshman year.
South Dakota continued to make the most of their home-court advantage in the NIT, advancing to the semi-finals with two victories this week. The Coyotes’ usually potent offence stumbled against Northern Iowa in a titanic contest, but they managed to escape with a win. Nicole Seekamp scored almost a third of the Coyotes’ points, finishing with 16 points on 7/18 field goal shooting, and also contributing 6 assists in South Dakota’s 51-50 victory. Jasmine Trimboli was given a rare start, finishing with 2 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals.
That victory saw the Coyotes move to the quarter-finals, where the would welcome Western Kentucky to the DakotaDome. A couple of three pointers at crucial moments from the Australian pair, including a half-court buzzer beater to end the first quarter by Trimboli, kept the momentum with South Dakota as the home side took a narrow 31-30 lead into halftime. South Dakota then broke the game wide open in the second half, quickly establishing a double-digit lead and then keeping pace with Western Kentucky to run out 68-54 victors.
Jacinta Vandenberg has improved throughout the season and came into her own this week as Oregon progressed to the NIT semifinals. Coming up against former school Fresno State, Vandenberg was a shining light in the paint for the Ducks, scoring 8 points on 4/7 shooting as well as collecting 10 rebounds. The center also dished out 5 assists as Oregon cruised to an 84-59 win over the Bulldogs, for whom Anais Kirvan did not see any playing time.
The victory saw the Ducks move on to a road game against UTEP with a spot in a semifinal against Aussie-laden South Dakota on the line. Neither Vandenberg nor Oregon started well - Vandenberg missed her first three shots as the Ducks went in 20-9 down after one quarter to a UTEP side yet to lose at home this season. After letting that 11 point lead blow out to 18, Oregon slowly chipped away at the lead, though. They won the second quarter by five points before moving within a single point of UTEP with a quarter to play. Neither side was able to gain any sort of breathing room until the last couple of minutes, as Oregon finally managed to establish a two-possession lead in the final seconds. Oregon ran out 71-67 victors, with Vandenberg finishing with 10 points and 9 rebounds as all five starters finished in double figures for the Ducks.
Tennessee-Martin gave a good account of themselves against Western Kentucky, but unfortunately that doesn’t count for much at the pointy end of the season. Chelsea Roberts finished her collegiate career with 10 points and 4 rebounds for the Skyhawks in a tightly contested game that came down to the final couple of minutes. Unfortunately, it was Western Kentucky who sneaked home in those dying seconds, running out 62-57 winners to send Tennessee-Martin packing in the second round.
Georgia Stirton gave a solid performance, but Gonzaga couldn’t get a win against Utah in the NIT Round of 32 in what turned out to be the point guard’s final college game, rounding out an excellent two years in Spokane. Stirton contributed 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists as the 'Zags went down 92-77 to conclude their season.
San Diego were handed a tough draw in their second round game, coming up against Michigan in the second round. Sadly, the Toreros were never really in the contest, falling to a heavy 78-51 defeat. Tayla Hepburn saw only limited minutes in the loss, finishing with a solitary point and three rebounds.
South Dakota (Nicole Seekamp, Jasmine Trimboli) vs Oregon (Jacinta Vandenberg) - March 31, 11am (Live on GoYotes.com)