With hopes of their fourth Summit League regular season title in five years greatly diminished, South Dakota heads into the final week of the schedule trying to prepare themselves for a run at a conference tournament crown and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Coyotes (24-2/12-2 Summit League) begin the week a game-and-a-half behind South Dakota State in the standings. A USD sweep this week and an SDSU loss to Western Illinois would give the Coyotes and Jackrabbits a share of the league title, but State would grab the top seed in the conference tournament, based on a tiebreaker.

USD's week begins at home with North Dakota State, Thursday (February 28).

The Bison (7-19/4-10  Summit League) snapped a seven-game losing streak with a win against Omaha last week.

NDSU has struggled on the offensive end much of the season and are shooting under 40 percent in each of their last four games.

Sophomore guard Michelle Gaislerova is the only player to average in double figures, scoring 13 points a game.

Tipoff is 5:30 PM, Thursday in Vermillion.

USD and NDSU haven't played since the conference opener in late December. The Coyotes won that game 67-41 in Fargo.

The Bison scored the first seven points of the game and only trailed by one at the end of the first quarter but USD responded with a 15-0 run and outscored NDSU 52-28 the rest of the game, limiting the Bison to just five points and a single field goal in the third quarter.

South Dakota enjoyed its most accurate three-point shooting performance of the season going 7-of-13 from behind the arc (54%).

The USD defense held NDSU's offense to just 28 percent from the floor.

The Coyotes close out the regular season at home with North Dakota, Saturday (March 2).

The Fighting Hawks (10-17/5-9 Summit League) opened their first-ever Summit League schedule with a pair of wins, but have dropped eight-of-ten since, including each of the last three.

UND is the most physical team in the conference, committing more fouls per game (23) than anyone. They are also number-two in rebounding.

The Fighting Hawks are led by the Summit's leading scorer, Lexi Klabo. The sophomore forward second in rebounding and fifth in blocked shots.

Tipoff is 1:00 PM, Saturday in Vermillion.

USD won the first meeting 80-50 last month in Grand Forks.

The Coyotes jumped on top 13-2 and never looked back, limiting UND to just seven points in the first quarter, nine points in the second quarter, and eight total field goals in the first three quarters.

The Fighting Hawks 24 percent accuracy was the lowest allowed by the South Dakota defense all season.

USD forced 23 turnovers.

The two teams combined for 63 fouls.

Last Thursday (February 21), the Coyotes avenged their only loss from the first half of the Summit League schedule with a 73-58 win at home over Denver.

The Coyotes hit their first three shots and jumped out to an 8-0 lead but shot just 2-of-8 the rest of the first quarter as Denver made 6-of-12 in the last seven minutes to tie things at 15 after one.

USD scored 12 of the first 15 points in the second quarter as the Coyotes defense held the Pioneers to just 1-of-8 shooting and forced five turnovers to lead by eight at halftime.

Monica Arens led USD with 12 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting with all four makes coming from behind the three-point line.

South Dakota erupted for 31 third-quarter points, connecting on 8-of-12 from the floor to start the period, eventually pushing their lead to 18.

Ciara Duffy scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half on 4-of-5 shooting. As a team, the Coyotes shot 63 percent in the second half.

The South Dakota defense was the big story, holding the 11th-highest scoring offense in the nation to 22 points beneath their average and limiting the nation's 11th-best three-point shooting team 7-of-25 (28%) from beyond the arc.

The Coyotes forced 19 turnovers which led to 20 USD points.

The win was USD's 11th straight.

Sunday (February 24), that win streak was stopped in an 82-78 overtime loss at South Dakota State.

The Coyotes used a 10-2 first-quarter run to lead by four after ten minutes in Brookings.

That advantage ballooned to 11 at intermission (40-29) as South Dakota used nine SDSU turnovers and five offensive rebounds to take 10 more shots in the first half than the Jacks.

Duffy had ten first-half points for the Coyotes on 4-of-7 shooting.

USD's lead was as many as 13 in the third but SDSU stayed in the game thanks to free throw shooting. The Jackrabbits outscored the Coyotes by 12 at the charity stripe in the first three quarters.

South Dakota's seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter was quickly extinguished as State got a trio of consecutive three-pointers from Madison Guebert and Rylie Cascio-Jensen.

The game was back-and-forth the rest of the way and was deadlocked at 69 in the final seconds when USD's Chloe Lamb got off a pair of shots that both missed and for the second straight game, the Coyotes and Jackrabbits were headed to overtime.

In the extra period, South Dakota used three-pointers from Allison Arens and Hannah Sjerven to lead by one with 2:10 to play, but South Dakota State's Macy Miller scored six points down the stretch and the Coyotes missed their final four shots to lose by four.

Miller finished with 28 points for the Jacks. Duffy had 23 for the Coyotes.

The loss dropped USD out of the AP Top 25 after a two-week run.

I talked with Coyotes head coach Dawn Plitzuweit about last week's games and the match-ups with North Dakota State and North Dakota:

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