VERMILLION, S.D. | When McNeese State visits the DakotaDome for tonight’s Women’s Basketball Invitational semifinal, the South Dakota Coyotes may think they’re seeing double.
That’s because twin sisters Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett of McNeese State will be the main focus of attention for Coach Amy Williams’ squad in the 7 p.m. contest.
“They’re both very good scorers and their younger sister, a freshman, is another threat from long range,” Williams said. “This will be a well-balanced, scary team coming in here.”
The Baggett twins are 5-foot-6 guards, Ashlyn averaging 18.8 points and Caitlyn 15.4 points per game. Their younger sister Allison, a 5-9 freshman, is a key reserve.
The WBI is a 16-team tournament divided into two brackets of eight, which are seeded separately. USD was the No. 6 seed and McNeese State No. 8, so each have made surprise treks to the semis.
South Dakota (19-15) has registered road victories over third-seeded Utah State (77-69) and No. 2 Lamar (71-48). The Coyotes are red-hot, with victories in seven of their last eight games, the lone loss coming to South Dakota State in the Summit League tournament championship.
McNeese State (20-14) stunned top-seeded Mercer 82-70 in the opening round behind a 38-point performance by Ashlyn Baggett. The Cowgirls then topped fourth-seeded Elon 66-58 as Baggett scored her 2,000th career point and made her 300th career three-pointer.
The Coyotes, obviously, have saved their best basketball for just the right time.
“I feel like we have committed to our No. 1 goal of playing our best basketball down the stretch,” first-year Coach Williams said. “The last few weeks we’ve spent 70 percent of our practices locking down on defense and rebounding. We’ve found our niche offensively and learned where our shots are coming from.
“We feel very fortunate that the WBI selected us as one of the teams to keep playing. It’s a tremendous thing for our underclassmen to gain experience and for our seniors to walk away from our program.”
USD’s Nicole Seekamp, a 5-10 sophomore from Renmark, South Australia, has been on a tear since postseason play began.
Seekamp has shot 60 percent from the field and 55 from three-point range since the Coyotes began postseason play on March 10. She poured in a career-high 33 points in the win over Utah State.
Senior Tempestt Wilson has averaged 14 points and junior Polly Harrington 10 in the last eight games. Harrington, a Kansas City, Mo., product, has tallied 15 in each of the WBI games.
“Nicole has really scored the ball well in the postseason and she’s been able to step in and play some minutes at point for us when Alexis (Yackley) needs a break,” said Williams, who with a victory would become the first women’s head coach in USD history to win 20 games in their first season. “We’ve had some underclassmen step up and our seniors are playing their roles.”
Chad Lavin and Gary Larson each won 19 in their first seasons as head coach.
South Dakota wound up third in its first season in the Summit League. The Coyotes were picked sixth in the preseason coaches poll.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” said Williams, who came to USD from NAIA Division I Rogers State (Okla.). “We all felt we were capable of more than preseason No. 6 (in the league) and we were able to surpass that. This senior class has done a tremendous job of leading us. They’re reaping some rewards now and I’m really proud of this team.”
Senior point guard Alexis Yackley, who had nine assists to move into fourth place on the school’s all-time list, and sophomore Lisa Loefler are the other Coyote starters.
McNeese State has recorded 20 wins in each of the last three seasons and won back-to-back Southland Conference titles in 2011 and 2012, advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Ashlyn Baggett ranks second on the school’s all-time scoring list with 2,003 points and Caitlyn Baggett is third with 1,639 points.
With a win tonight, USD will play at the winner of the Detroit-Pennsylvania semifinal in the WBI championship this weekend.