Colorado will have a significant home court advantage during the first round of the Women's NCAA Tournament today at Coors Events Center.
South Dakota State ought to feel comfortable, too.
The 13th-seeded Jackrabbits (25-7) expect to have a good crowd on hand when they take on fourth-seeded South Carolina (24-7).
"We have a lot of alums in this area," SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. "For our fans in Rapid City, it's as close to get here as it to swing over to Brookings, to I think we're going to have a good crowd tomorrow. We've always had a good following in women's basketball."
The success of the team certainly helps. SDSU is making its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Just 19 other teams in the country
"It's not something that many people get the chance to do," SDSU senior guard Ashley Eide said of reaching the Tournament all four years of her career. "We're very excited about that and we're just trying to take it to the next level now and really take advantage of the opportunity that we have."
Since taking over the program with six games left in the 1999-2000 season, Johnston has a 315-106 record with the Jackrabbits. He led them to the Division II national title in 2003. This is now their seventh consecutive postseason appearance as a Division I school, including Women's NIT trips in 2007 and 2008.
The Jackrabbits are just 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament and have been bounced out in the first round the past three years. But Johnston said his team has a chance to succeed.
"We told our team that we'll have to play great, but we're capable of playing great," he said.
Listening to South Carolina coach Dawn Staley talk about defense, it sounds a lot like how Colorado's Linda Lappe talks about defense.
"As a coach, it's all I know to put yourself in a position to win basketball games," Staley said. "On the offensive end, it's just so unpredictable," said Staley, a former Olympic gold medalist as a player and one of the top players in WNBA history. "It takes talent to be a good offensive team, a good offensive player. To be a good defender, it's a decision. Either you're going to do it or you're not going to do it."
The Gamecocks rank fourth in the country in points allowed, giving up just 49.5 per game. In 19 games, they allowed fewer than 50 points, and kept their opponents in the 50s eight other times.
A year ago, Kansas forward Carolyn Davis saw her junior season come to a premature end. She played just 23 games before tearing the ACL and dislocating the knee in her right leg.
She has come back strong this year, posting 15.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for the Jayhawks.
"In the beginning of the year, her mobility and lateral movement wasn't where it had been (before the injury)," KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "Her rim to rim wasn't where it had been.
"(Now) she is as good as she has been since the injury. Confidence wise, she is as good as she has been. She has been more aggressive. She certainly is close to who she was last year."
A good omen?
The tournament will be played on a court named after legendary CU coach Russell "Sox" Walseth. During his career, Walseth also coached South Dakota State for two years in the mid-1950s.
Asked if some of that mojo might help his team, Johnston joked, "I wasn't alive in the 50s. I don't know if they had mojo in the 50s, or if that's just an our generation thing or not."
He learned of the Walseth connection to SDSU years ago when the Jackrabbits played an exhibition game at CU.
"It's neat history, it really is," he said.
South Carolina's team free-throw percentage of 55.6 ranks 342nd out of 343 schools in Division I. The Gamecocks rank just ahead of Gardner-Webb. ... The four teams playing this weekend combined for 33 losses -- 32 of those against teams that qualified for either the NCAA Tournament or WNIT. The only exception was Kansas' loss to Texas on Feb. 20.
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