South Dakota trailed by three when Alexis Yackley went to the line with 5 seconds left. Yackley's plan was to make the first foul shot and miss the second, hoping the Coyotes could grab the rebound and tie the game.
Yackley improvised when she missed her first free throw, hustling outside the 3-point arc and throwing up a shot that nearly sent the Summit League championship into overtime. But the long attempt was off, giving South Dakota State a 56-53 win.
"It was just kind of like a boxing match the whole entire night, and time just ran out on us," Yackley said.
Nicole Seekamp led South Dakota (17-15) with 20 points, and Tempestt Wilson had 10. The Coyotes shot 36.8 percent from the field.
"They fought through some adversity," coach Amy Williams said of Wilson, Yackley and the team's other seniors. "They learned from our mistakes, and it put them in a position to have a chance to cut down nets and play for a championship, and I couldn't be more proud of their effort."
Ashley Eide scored seven of her 10 points in the final 5½ minutes for the Jackrabbits, who won the conference tournament for the fifth consecutive season. Megan Waytashek had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Eide hit a go-ahead 3-pointer to give South Dakota State a 50-48 lead with 5:28 left. After Polly Harrington tied it with a layup for the Coyotes, Eide made two foul shots and Katie Lingle converted a layup to make it 54-50 with 2:47 to go.
Eide tacked on two more free throws to help South Dakota State hold on for its sixth consecutive victory this season and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"In order to win a championship, all of us had to gut it out and play our toughest, and I think we did that today," Lingle said.
South Dakota State shot just 29.1 percent from the field. Gabrielle Boever led a strong defensive effort, finishing with seven steals.
"I thought she was great today," Jackrabbits coach Aaron Johnston said, praising Boever's performance.
Sioux Falls Arena is the midway point between South Dakota State's campus in Brookings and South Dakota's home of Vermillion, but the Jackrabbits had much more support in the women's tournament record crowd of 6,153.
The last time the two teams met for a postseason title was in 2003, when the Jackrabbits topped the Coyotes 87-63 in the Division II North Central Regional in Brookings. South Dakota State went on to win the Division II championship 65-50 over Northern Kentucky.
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