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MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND takes on Portland State Thursday

At the beginning of the season, more Big Sky Conference coaches than not predicted a wild race — one in which the league winner could have as many as five losses.

That prediction is pretty much on the mark with two weeks left in the regular season. League-leading Weber State is 12-4 with four games to play.

However, it makes no sense to predict any further happenings in the league.

Seven of the 11 teams in the league are within one loss of each other — a log jam that won’t be settled until the last day of the season.

For UND, which is in the middle of that logjam at 9-7, the only focus is on Thursday’s game at The Betty against Portland State, a game back at 8-8.

UND has four games remaining and — realistically — needs to win at least two to assure itself a berth in next month’s seven-team postseason tournament. UND coach Brian Jones said that still may not be enough.

“I’m not paying attention to any scenarios,” said Jones. “My gut tells me we have to win two of the four, if not three, to get in. You just never know.

“But these four games we have left will show a lot of character about our guys and their ability to focus small and on the step that’s ahead of them. We can’t focus on the big picture right now.”

Portland State, which beat UND 70-68 earlier this month in Portland, is playing as well as any league team. The Vikings have won their last two road games and lost at the buzzer at Montana — one of the two toughest places to play in the league.

Nearly every Big Sky team is in desperation mode now, trying to secure a berth in the seven-team league tournament.

“Some teams embrace that (desperation) scenario, some run from it,” said Jones. “Teams that never get too high or too low do well in that scenario.”

UND is 8-3 at home this season, 5-2 in the league. The first home league loss came against league favorite Weber State. The second, and most disappointing loss of the season, came against Montana State.

“Since that Montana State game, our guys have focused,” said Jones.

UND has seven seniors, all of whom have played a lot of basketball. They also were instrumental in last season’s strong finish. UND won its final four Big Sky games to finish third in the league.

“Right now, it’s all about chemistry and confidence,” Jones said. “Teams that are healthy and have some swagger are the ones that are going to finish strong in the league.”

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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