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Robby Gallagher/South Dakota State Media relations Former Worthington Trojan and current South Dakota State Jackrabbit sophomore Gabby Boever (4) prepares to defend the SDSU end of the court during a NCAA women's basketball game this season in Brookings, S.D.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Boever doing it with defense for Jacks

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BROOKINGS, S.D. -- For the third-straight year, former Trojan standout Gabby Boever is heading to the NCAA women's basketball tournament along with the rest of the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits after defeating the in-state rival South Dakota University Coyotes 56-53 to claim the Summit League's automatic bid to the tournament.

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"We've been playing really well together all year," said Boever, a SDSU red-shirt sophomore guard. "Every year, our goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament and we take that mindset into the Summit League tournament."

In the Summit League tournament championship game against the Coyotes, Boever scored nine points, while shooting 40 percent from the field. But even more impressively, Boever led the team in steals with seven.

"Defensively, I played really well that game," Boever said. "I think I held my girl to zero points when I was guarding her throughout the game. I try to give the girls I am guarding a hard time when they try to get around me. I don't want to make it easy for them to get a basket."

Boever's strong defensive play was one of the main reasons SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston recruited her to play for the Jackrabbits three years ago.

"I watched her play in high school and I could see her physical strength and how strong of a guard she was," Johnston said. "She had good hands for picking up steals and could also read the game well enough to get into passing lanes to get even more steals."

Even though Boever is just a sophomore, she has become a key part of the Jacks' defensive system in just a few short years playing for the DI school.

"We've leaned on her defensively all year," Johnston said. "She brings a lot of intensity to our defense. She has good instincts which make her really good at getting into the passing lanes.

"She is also good off of the ball. She picked that up from playing within the Worthington High School program where they create a lot of havoc on defense."

However, Boever didn't just step onto the college stage her freshman year and shutdown every opponent she was charged with guarding.

In the 2011-2012 season, Boever averaged 15 minutes in 33 games, while scoring just 2.2 points a game. She picked up just 25 steals throughout the season and was shooting less than 32 percent.

"In my first year here, I was pretty nervous and not really sure what my role was with the team," Boever said. "But this year, I've been a lot more confident and sure about my abilities along with my skills on the court."

The difference in her play was easy to see. Boever has averaged just under 26 minutes on the court this season, while increasing her points-per-game to 6.4. Not only that, but her total number of steals shot up to 78 (2.4 per game) and she also dished out 108 assists, compared to 45 during her freshman campaign.

"Last year, she was never 100 percent health-wise," Johnston said. "But by the end of February, early March, you could see that she was healthy again and that is when her defensive intensity picked up.

"Now she is healthy and that is one reason why she has grown more confident out on the court. You can see that in her play over the last year."

On Monday night, Boever sat in anticipation with her SDSU teammates for the third-straight year watching the Women's NCAA Selection Show waiting for her team's name to be called.

"It feels great to sit down every year and see your school's name come up and see where you will play," Boever said. "It is a huge accomplishment to make it here for five-straight years. I feel so blessed to be here. There are no words to describe it. It is just awesome."

By winning their fifth-straight Summit League tournament (15-0 in tournament games), the Jackrabbits earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. South Dakota State earned the No. 13-seed in the Norfolk region and will face No. 4-seed South Carolina Saturday in Boulder, Colo.

"The first two years, I was so young and it was a bit overwhelming to see all the fans from the other team in the stands and all the lights shining down on me," Boever said. "This year, it is a little different. We are at a neutral site and I am a lot more confident. We've been playing really well down the stretch and I feel like we can do really well in the tournament."

One reason Boever feels so confident is the support she has gotten from friends and family, along with the words of encouragement she still gets from her fellow Trojans back in Worthington.

"I've been so blessed and lucky to have my family and friends there to support me," Boever said. "When we won the Summit League Tournament last week, I got texts and tweets congratulating me from the fans who used to come out and watch me play back in Worthington.

"It is nice to see that people still care about me and are following my career even after high school."

Boever and her fellow Jackrabbits can be seen taking on South Carolina at 3:10 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. The winner of the game will move on to face the winner of No. 12 Kansas and No. 5 Colorado on either Monday or Tuesday next week.

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