WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Life on the road in Big Sky Conference isn't easyUND is coming off back-to-back Big Sky road trips to Montana-Montana State and Eastern Washington-Portland State during the past two weekends.
By: Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald
Life on the road in the Big Sky Conference is not easy. The massive conference spans two time zones. And it’s nearly 1,800 miles between UND and Sacramento State — the two schools that sit on the fringes of seven-state, 11-team league.
UND is coming off back-to-back Big Sky road trips to Montana-Montana State and Eastern Washington-Portland State during the past two weekends.
“It’s hard going on those big road trips, especially one after the other,” said UND junior Megan Lauck.
But that’s what UND signed up for as a Big Sky member. And that’s why it’s important to protect home court as UND will attempt to do tonight against Sacramento State at The Betty and on Saturday against Northern Arizona.
“Every night, you’re playing a formidable opponent,” UND coach Travis Brewster said. “It’s part of being a Division I program and part of the Big Sky Conference. You have to bring it every night.”
It isn’t a make-or-break weekend for UND, but it’s important for North Dakota to gain some traction in its quest to qualify for the league’s seven-team postseason tournament.
UND is 2-6 in the Big Sky and 7-10 while Sacramento State is 4-3, 9-7.
“We definitely need to get some wins because we let Southern Utah slip away from us at home at the beginning of the season,” Lauck said.
Two games separate six teams in the league, meaning nothing has been decided.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Brewster said of the weekend. “The league is a jumbled mess. But it’s starting to play out a little bit.”
UND struggled with its shooting two weeks ago at Montana and Montana State. Combined, UND shot 29 percent in Missoula and Bozeman.
Last week, UND had chances to win late in the second half at both Eastern Washington and Portland State. But turnovers bit UND. Combined, UND had 50 turnovers in Cheney, Wash., and Portland.
“At Portland, we turned it over 10 times in 13 minutes of play in the first half,” Brewster said. “And we were up 10 points. Those things hurt you when you’re on the road. You have to play good basketball. You have to understand clock management. Those are the things we’re focusing on this week.”
Lauck, however, is coming off one of her best weekends of the season. She scored 21 points at Eastern Washington and 14 at Portland. Combined, she was 12-for-25 from the field.
UND is 0-5 in Big Sky road games and 2-1 at home. No Big Sky team has played more road games than UND. Only Montana State’s 4-1 road record stands out in the league. Nearly every other team is at .500 or below.
“Any time you can win a road game, it’s going to be a big deal in this league,” Brewster said. “Playing those games in different environments and different time zones play into it. But you look at your group to see who is maturing, who is understanding how to play and who is adjusting to the physicality of the league.
“It’s slow at times but the key in this conference is that it’s not a sprint. And this group is very resilient. They understand there will be bad times. The key is to minimize them.”
And any advantage the home team has is appreciated. That’s why the weather in Grand Forks drew some comment Wednesday afternoon heading into tonight’s game. On Wednesday night it was minus-13 degrees with a minus-33 degree wind chill on the UND campus. It was over 50 degrees when Sacramento State left for UND.
Nelson reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1268; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.