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MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND closes out Big Sky regular season Thursday against Southern Utah

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After UND clinched a spot in next week’s Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament by beating Northern Colorado on Tuesday, North Dakota coach Brian Jones was asked if he could relax.

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“I don’t want to relax; it’s March,” he said.

There are no guarantees at this time of the season and there is no room for sloppy play.

UND (12-7 Big Sky, 15-14 overall) closes out the Big Sky regular season Thursday at Southern Utah, which is winless in the conference at 0-18. UND can still earn the No. 2 seed for next week’s league tournament in Ogden by winning in Cedar City. A loss could leave UND with the No. 3 seed.

UND simply wants to carry more momentum into next week’s tournament. UND has won its last four games and five of its last six.

After beating UNC 94-90, UND left The Betty early Wednesday morning for Southern Utah.

“We basically have no prep time,” said Jones. “This game will come down to toughness and togetherness.”

Southern Utah is 1-26 overall. The scary part for UND is that the Thunderbirds have been in a lot of league games this season, but unable to finish strong in the final minutes.

“It’s a trap game,” said Jones. “I’ll say this about Southern Utah. They usually give the coach of the year to the team that wins the conference. But those kids at Southern Utah are playing as hard for (coach Nick Robinson) as they were in their first game.”

UND struggled against SUU at The Betty in early January, winning 65-61.

“They led us for 37 minutes in our building,” said Jones. “I hope that gets our guys’ attention. We had to fight like crazy to win the game.

“If our guys think they’ll walk in the building and win the game . . .”

UND senior guard Aaron Anderson knows how to finish that sentence.

In the last few weeks, the mindset for UND and for the rest of the tightly bunched Big Sky teams has been that any loss could result in missing the tournament.

“We can’t give up now,” said Anderson. “Montana and Northern Colorado are right behind us. We have to win out, just like coach has been stressing these last few weeks.”

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