SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota wants to extend Polly Harrington's collegiate career. The Coyotes' only senior did her part, too.
Harrington scored 16 points to lead South Dakota to an 82-71 win over Denver for the Summit League championship and the Coyotes' first trip to the NCAA tournament.
Raeshel Contreras added 13 points for the Coyotes (19-13), who earned their first Summit League title. Nicole Seekamp was 3 for 12 from the field, but contributed 11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
Seekamp said the Coyotes fought hard for Harrington.
"We were playing for her," Seekamp said. "We don't want the season to be over yet."
Desiree Hunter and Paige Bradley led Denver (9-23) with 14 points apiece. Theresa Wirth had 13.
The Coyotes reached the title game by handing five-time champion South Dakota State its first tournament loss after 15 consecutive victories.
The University of South Dakota, which based in Vermillion about 60 miles south of Sioux Falls, enjoyed a mostly hometown crowd of the 4,125 fans at the Sioux Falls Arena.
Wirth made two foul shots to give Denver a 21-14 lead with 11:15 left in the first half, but the Coyotes came right back. They grabbed a 29-28 lead when Seekamp's steal led to Bridget Arens' layup with 4:47 to go.
Seekamp was 0 for 7 from the field at the break, but South Dakota had a 33-32 lead. Margaret McCloud had a game-high nine points for the Coyotes at intermission.
Denver and South Dakota were locked in a close one, before the Coyotes pulled away down the stretch. Seekamp's jumper with 6:42 to go started an 18-5 run that made it 80-65 with 53 seconds left.
"Fortunately for us, we kind of made a run at the right time and the clock just kind of ran out on them," Coyotes coach Amy Williams said.
Denver coach Kerry Cremeans said South Dakota showed a tough transition offense but her team fought hard for 40 minutes.
"They gave South Dakota everything they could handle," Cremeans said.
The sixth-seeded Pioneers had just two road victories in the regular season, but reached the tournament final by topping third-seeded IPFW 79-73 on Sunday, and then eliminating No. 2 seed IUPUI with a 76-69 overtime victory on Monday. If Denver had won the title, it would have set a new low win total for a qualifier for the NCAA women's tournament.
Cremeans said playing in the conference title game will prove to be a great experience for her players.
"Those kids feel it. They know it," she said. "They feel the emotion of it."
Pioneers forward Alison Janecek said the loss is disappointing, but the experience was great.
"We feel really good about what we were able to accomplish in this tournament," she said.
South Dakota made the jump to Division I athletics in 2008-2009. The Coyotes advanced to the Summit League finals in 2013, but lost to South Dakota State 56-53 in the championship when Alexis Yackley's 3-point attempt bounced off the rim in the final seconds.
The Coyotes finally got past the Jackrabbits in this year's semifinals, knocking off the top seed 72-58 by taking an early lead and holding it through the final buzzer.