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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UND has chance to finish at the top this weekend against Southern Utah

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For a team that was picked eighth and ninth in the preseason Big Sky Conference women’s basketball polls, this statistic stands out: UND has been in first place in the league standings for all but three days this season, a 20-game schedule that began in late December.

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Thursday, UND has a chance to finish all alone at the top of the Big Sky with a win at Southern Utah. UND (15-4, Big Sky, 20-8 overall) has a share of the league title in hand but wants to win the title outright and leave no doubt where next week’s Big Sky postseason tournament will be played.

If UND wins, the Big Sky tournament will be at The Betty next Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with the winner qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

UND can still host the tournament even with a loss. But SUU has to lose its final game Saturday or Eastern Washington has to finish ahead of Sacramento State in the league standings.

“We still have an even-keel mentality about things,” said UND coach Travis Brewster. “But we want to win the conference outright and have our fans experience the Big Sky tournament.”

It’s been quite the turnaround for a program that finished 6-14 in the Big Sky last season, its first in the league.

UND has been consistent all season, dominating teams with its physical play, defense, shot-blocking and rebounding ability. And UND has one of the dominant players in the Big Sky in Madi Buck, a senior forward who ranks third in league scoring at 16.4 points per game.

Few thought UND would be in a position to win a league title after last season. But Brewster said he wasn’t totally surprised by the turnaround.

“I thought some things had to go the right way for us at the right time,” he said. “A lot hindered at the beginning of the year in how we played our nonconference games. At first, I was a little nervous because we didn’t execute the way we should have at Northern Iowa. I was curious to see how we would bounce back.”

UND rebounded, beating South Dakota, Jamestown and Milwaukee before dropping a two-point game at Minnesota.

Now, UND faces a Southern Utah program that quietly has been in the Big Sky race all season.

“They’re playing good ball,” said Brewster. “They’ve lost only once in their gym. They’re physical and they’re knocking down shots.”

UND beat SUU 71-68 in early January at The Betty.

“A couple of bounces for them and that game would have been different,” said Brewster.

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