In sports, there are wins and there are moral victories. Unfortunately for the UNO women, they received only the latter Saturday.
The Mavericks (9-8, 1-2) fell to perennial Summit League power South Dakota State 80-66 at Sapp Fieldhouse in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
The Jackrabbits (13-7, 4-0) jumped to an 11-0 lead in the first five minutes. By the time UNO’s lid finally came off the basket, the hole was too deep to climb out of. The Mavs, however, showed they weren’t going away without a fight.
After the opening South Dakota State run, UNO cut the deficit to two with a 13-4 spurt. From there, the Mavs couldn’t quite turn the corner, despite a number of resilient runs.
Second-half leads of 10 and 14 were cut to three and seven, respectively, but UNO never led against the conference leader.
“We just kept pushing, kept fighting,” center Taijhe Kelly said. “We all wanted the win. We played really hard.”
Kelly blocked three shots, bringing her season total to 58 while also scoring in double figures for the fifth time this year with 11 points on five shots. Senior guard Ericka House also finished in double figures with 13 points, but shot 1 of 8 from 3-point range. Mikaela Shaw added 12 points while Madi Robson tallied nine points, seven assists, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
This isn’t the first time UNO has played the Jackrabbits tough. Last season’s contests were decided by 13 and 10 points.
The Mavs are full of new faces this year, and coach Brittany Lange had to turn to freshmen after Kelly and House picked up two first-half fouls apiece. That made for a tough matchup.
“South Dakota State is a really good, experienced team,” Lange said.
Though shooting a high percentage hasn’t been a strength for the Mavs this season, they managed 44 percent Saturday, but they attempted 13 fewer shots than their opponent. The Jackrabbits sprung for 12 offensive rebounds, compared with six for UNO, while also forging a 22-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives. The Mavs held a dangerous South Dakota State team to 1 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half, and surrendered only five late points to leading Jackrabbit scorer Megan Waytashek. If not for a pair of late 3-pointers by South Dakota State’s Steph Paluch, the final margin would have been in single digits.
“Absolutely it’s a moral victory,” Lange said. “I’m really proud of the girls’ effort. They’ve really bought into what matters, which is rebounding and defense. They’ve made great strides this year. ”
The Mavs now hit the road for a pair of conference matchups, beginning against Denver on Thursday.