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UND wins fourth in a row, upends Northern Iowa 80-72

UND forward Lexi Klabo goes for a layup as Northern Iowa's Taylor Hagen attempts to block her during Saturday's basketball game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 9
Fighting Hawks head coach Travis Brewster confronts referees on a call during the second quarter of Saturday's home game against Northern Iowa. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 9
The Fighting Hawks' Grace Sawatzke makes a speedy drive past Northern Iowa defenders during Saturday's afternoon basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 9
UND's Jill Morton (center) makes a quick pass to Akealy Moton (left) during the second quarter of Saturday's game against Northern Iowa. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 9
Fighting Hawks guard Jill Morton gets tangled up with Northern Iowa defenders on a drive during Saturday's basketball game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 9
Northern Iowa head coach Tanya Warren argues with referees during the third quarter of Saturday's women's basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald6 / 9
Northern Iowa head coach Tanya Warren goes toe-to-toe with game officials during Saturday's women's basketball game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald7 / 9
Northern Iowa forward Taylor Hagen attempts to block Fighting Hawks' Lexi Klabo as she goes under the hoop at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald8 / 9
UND's Fallyn Freije fights for a rebound with Northern Iowa's Rose Simon-Ressler (#22) during Saturday's matchup at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald9 / 9

For nearly 30 minutes, UND managed to stay within striking distance of Northern Iowa. The Fighting Hawks weren't particularly shooting well, but they did have one advantage.

Lexi Klabo was playing her usual game.

Klabo, UND's 6-foot-3 junior center, has shown she can carry her team at times this season. And she did that again Saturday, scoring a career-high 29 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in leading UND to an 80-72 win over Northern Iowa before 1,877 fans at The Betty.

Afterward, though, she deflected credit. "We started out a little slow but we picked it up," she said. "We had people step up and make plays."

UND won its fourth straight to improve to 4-2 while Northern Iowa, an annual Missouri Valley Conference contender that beat Iowa State earlier this season, dropped to 2-5.

"We came out slow," said UND coach Travis Brewster. "Our shoot around before the game was slow, too. Luckily, we have great fans. We have to enjoy this win because it was hard-earned at our place with a great crowd behind us."

Northern Iowa led for the first 26 minutes and had a nine-point advantage in the first half. But the Hawks slowly closed the gap and grabbed their first lead (55-54) on a Jill Morton 3-pointer with 3:39 left in the third quarter. Freshman Akealy Moton added an inside basket at the 3-minute mark before Klabo scored another inside basket for a 59-54 lead with 2:16 left in the third.

UNI briefly regained the lead early in the fourth quarter before Morton hit another shot from the perimeter for a 63-62 lead. From there, UND managed to stretch the lead as the Hawks made enough free throws and handled some intense UNI perimeter pressure down the stretch.

Fallyn Freije added 18 points and 11 rebounds for UND while Morton ended with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

"Jill has been knocking down shots all season," said Brewster. "She's fearless out there with the jump shot and we need that."

UNI, led by Kennedy Kirpatrick's 21 points, pulled within 72-71 with 2:20 to go but UND hit six free throws and a layup over the next two minutes to seal the win.

"It was a really intense game," said Morton. "Our shots weren't falling early but we're a hard-working team."

And they're a hard-working team with an inside tandem of Klabo and Freije who combined for 47 points, 26 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. Klabo had all seven blocks.

"Those two were amazing, as always," said Morton.

Despite UNI's pressure on the perimeter, UND committed only 11 turnovers. And the Hawks capitalized on UNI's up-and-down floor play, scoring 22 points off 16 Panther turnovers.

"We found another way to get it done," said Brewster. "I trust my team; I trust how they play and I like how they play. It's definitely a step forward. That team (UNI) will contend for the Mo Valley title. There is no question about it. That's why we play these teams, to make our team better."

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268
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