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Jill Morton's progression has fueled UND"s strong non-conference season

Fighting Hawks guard Jill Morton gets tangled up with Northern Iowa defenders on a drive during Saturday's basketball game. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

UND women's basketball coach Travis Brewster is known to have plenty of nicknames for his players.

He spent media day earlier this year providing car analogies for each member of the Fighting Hawks.

Brewster's knack for nicknames sprung up again Thursday when he was asked about junior guard Jill Morton.

"Call her microwave for a reason," Brewster said. "She can heat up in a hurry."

Morton's increased production this season has pushed UND to a 4-3 record—a misleading mark considering the team's losses have come to No. 8 Baylor, No. 17 Oregon State and mid-major power South Dakota State.

The Fighting Hawks will be the favorite Saturday afternoon when they host rival North Dakota State at 2 p.m. at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

UND is looking to make it six straight over the Bison, who haven't beat the Fighting Hawks in the Division I era.

After coming off the bench her first two seasons in Grand Forks, Morton is making the most of her time as a starter.

Morton, an Edina, Minn., native, has started all seven games this year and is averaging 10.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field.

It's a steady improvement over the past two years in which she averaged 3.8 points as a freshman and 5.0 points as a sophomore.

After playing roughly 15 minutes per game in each of her first two seasons, Morton's role has increased to more than 25 minutes per game this season.

"The biggest reason for her growth is she's more consistent on both ends of the floor," Brewster said. "That and playing time."

UND lost three of its top four leading scorers from last season (Makailah Dyer, Leah Szabla and Sam Roscoe).

That opened the door for Morton, who has shot an efficient 44 percent from the field for her career.

"It's mostly just a natural progression," she said. "I shoot when I'm open, but I don't force anything. With who we graduated last year, there's more of an opportunity for scoring and someone had to pick up the slack."

UND's junior class has picked up the slack, with Lexi Klabo leading the way with 17.6 points per game and classmate Fallyn Freije with 12.7 per game.

UND's top five leading scorers are juniors.

"(Morton) isn't a selfish player," Brewster said. "She's all about the team and plays her heart out."

Brewster said Morton's energy is contagious, but it was also a pause for concern when recruiting Morton out of high school.

"We were a little nervous about the pace she played," Brewster said. "Could we harness that in the right direction? But she's a great individual and comes from a great family.

"The pace she plays at now, how she gets up and down and throws her body around, makes our team better."

NDSU at UND

• When: 2 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

• TV/radio: MidcoSN, FCS Central, 100.3 FM.

• Records: UND 4-3, North Dakota State 5-4.

• Of note: UND is 5-0 against NDSU in the Division I era. The Fighting Hawks have three players averaging double figures— Lexi Klabo (17.6 ppg), Fallyn Freije (12.7) and Jill Morton (10.4). UND holds a 45-33 all-time advantage over the Bison.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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