Jackrabbits jump at chance to battle Stanford for Sweet 16 spot

Stanford cruises past San Francisco (0:55)

Lili Thompson scores 17 points and Stanford handles San Francisco in the first round of the NCAA tournament 85-58. (0:55)

STANFORD, Calif. -- You can call them what you want, but the South Dakota State Jackrabbits don't see Cinderella in the mirror.

Instead, they see a championship-level team that has taken on some of the country's best programs and built a solid NCAA résumé over most of the past decade.

The NCAA committee might have seen a 12-seed for the Summit League champions, but the Jackrabbits knew better. President Obama knew better, picking them for the opening-round upset in his women's bracket.

And they played better, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament Saturday night with their 74-71 win against fifth-seeded Miami at Maples Pavilion.

Next up is an even bigger, more defining task, knocking off the fourth-seeded Cardinal on their home floor. Stanford hasn't lost a NCAA tournament game at home since 2007, when most of the players on the roster were still in elementary school.

The Jackrabbits have never reached the Sweet 16. They feel like it might be about time.

"It's exciting for everybody to beat Miami," South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston said. "It's the culmination of a lot of work that goes into not only this year, but even previous years. It's neat to see everybody be rewarded in this way, for a chance to play together again."

Senior guard Gabby Boever said Saturday's win had meaning outside of the Jackrabbits locker room. It means a lot to the fans who traveled to California, the South Dakota State campus and even the state.

"We are really looking forward to the opportunity to continue the goal we set for ourselves to get to the Sweet 16 and go further than any basketball team has ever gone before in South Dakota," Boever said.

Playing basketball in South Dakota, Boever said, is all about making a name for yourself. Because otherwise, you might be a little tough to find.

"Coming from a smaller town, you don't necessarily get looked at by big schools," Boever said. "So coming out and proving to yourself and others that you are able to compete and play with bigger schools is definitely something that I take pretty seriously."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer certainly is taking the Jackrabbits seriously.

"We've played them before and we know how tough they are," VanDerveer said, referring to a tournament game in Mexico two seasons ago, a game the Cardinal won by 20 points. "They go give you that challenge of spreading the floor. They pass well. They execute well and they play with a purpose."

South Dakota State has made a habit of playing a challenging non-conference schedule. This season, the Jackrabbits took on Notre Dame at home (a 75-64 loss), Maryland (a 62-55 loss in the Virgin Islands) and DePaul, a game they won 88-79 on Dec. 15.

"Each year we've tried to play that level of competition," Johnston said. "It's not just about winning [Saturday]."

The point Johnston is trying to make is, the Jackrabbits are no overnight success story. SDSU has reached the NCAA field in seven of the past eight seasons. They played in the WNIT last year, reaching the semifinals.

South Dakota State's highest-ever seeding in the NCAA tournament was a No. 7 seed in 2009 after going 32-3.

The No. 12 seed they drew for this tournament was their best seed since. Coming into Saturday's game, SDSU had lost five straight first-round games. Johnston said his team was neither surprised nor disappointed to be a No. 12 seed.

But Saturday's win raised the program's profile. Junior center Clarissa Ober said the Miami win "puts us on the map."

"I think it's a great thing," Johnston said. "We don't put too much on ourselves or try to over-glorify what we're doing. It certainly raises the profile of what can be accomplished for many players back home. Our team takes that pretty seriously."