WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UND hosts Montana Thursday and Montana State Saturday
If UND aspires to become one of the top programs in the Big Sky Conference, somehow it has to beat Montana -- the league's perennial power. The Grizzlies have won six of the past 10 Big Sky postseason titles and were picked high again in this season's preseason polls.
"Montana is the benchmark," said UND coach Travis Brewster. "It's what the conference tries to measure up to."
UND -- so far the surprise of the Big Sky -- hosts Montana Thursday and Montana State on Saturday in what could be the biggest two-game home stand for UND since it moved to Division I.
UND is 5-0 in the league, with three wins coming on the road. Montana is 3-1 in the Big Sky and the defending league champion. Montana State is 3-1 in the league as well. Two UND wins this week could signal that North Dakota has a legitimate shot at making a serious run at the Big Sky title in its second year as a league member.
"It's probably one of the toughest groups to come into the Betty," said UND center Emily Evers. "Montana shoots the ball really well so we have to be tenacious on defense. Montana State likes the transition game a lot and that something we've struggled with this season. But we're working on it."
Montana may be a team that's hard to read. The Griz lost 70-53 to 3-12 NDSU at a tournament in November. But since Big Sky play began two weeks ago, the Griz are on a roll -- averaging 85.8 points and shooting 52.1 percent through four games under coach Robin Selvig, now in his 36th season as the Griz coach.
But UND may be the most physical team in the league, outrebounding opponents by 10.7 boards per game -- which ranks 10th nationally.
Also, UND's size has translated into blocked shots. UND ranks first in the Big Sky in blocked shots (6.4 per game) and fourth in Division I. However, Montana and Montana State rank second and third in the Big Sky and sixth and seventh, respectively, nationally.
UND has lost only once in the last month, that setback coming at Iowa. Its wins and difficult nonconference schedule has produced a healthy RPI ranking for UND, 10-4 overall.
On Wednesday, UND was ranked No. 70 in the RPI rankings.
"We've played a tough schedule and that's helped us out a bit," said Brewster. "We've played in tough venues. And hopefully that will help us down the road."
But UND's RPI and its 5-0 start in the Big Sky doesn't carry much weight in mid-January.
"We're not caught up in stats, preseason rankings and things like that," said Brewster. "We're caught up in the moment."
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