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MEN'S BASKETBALL: UND on another late-season surge

With 11 games to play in the Big Sky Conference, confusion reigns. Only one team — Weber State — officially has qualified for the league’s seven-team postseason tournament next week in Ogden, Utah.

The logjam behind Weber still exists and perhaps as many as four teams may not find out if they qualify for the league tournament until Saturday — the last day of Big Sky regular-season games.

UND, at 11-7 in the league (14-14 overall) sits in a relatively good position to make the tournament. UND is in second place heading into Tuesday’s home game against Northern Colorado. A win and UND is officially in.

Even if UND drops its final two games, an 11-9 record still may be good enough to advance UND, considering all the tie-breaking scenarios that exist.

UND, however, doesn’t want to take any chances. It wants the No. 2 seed in the tournament.

“That’s what we’re aiming for,” said UND’s Troy Huff. “This conference is so bunched up. We want to separate ourselves in these next two games.”

While the conference playoff situation remains confusing, one thing is clear for UND. Under coach Brian Jones, North Dakota again is finishing the season with a flourish.

  •  Last season, UND won four of its final five regular-season games and took the No. 3 seed into the Big Sky tournament, where UND pushed league heavyweight Weber State to the limit before falling in the semifinal round. In February of last season, UND won seven of 10 games.
  •  In the 2011-12 season, UND also won its final four regular-season games before winning the Great West Conference postseason tournament.
  •  UND won six straight late in the 2010-11 season, capping the run with its first Great West postseason title.

“Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve finished strong,” said UND senior guard Jamal Webb. “This year, we want to finish even stronger.”

Six league tournament spots were still up for grabs entering the week with nine teams in contention. The league office said more than 2,000 scenarios were still in play.

While UND is on another late-season surge, the opposite is true for Northern Colorado — a team that appeared to be a contender for the league title earlier in the season.

The Bears come to Grand Forks on a three-game losing streak. UNC dropped two games at home last week, a stunning turn of events since the Bears had defended its home court better than any league team for much of the season.

UND opened its Big Sky season at Northern Colorado, where the Bears beat North Dakota 84-66 back in late December. That is the most lopsided Big Sky loss of the season for UND.

None of that matters to Jones.

“It’s March,” he said. “Every game is going to be close, home or away.”

Up next

Who: Northern Colorado at UND.

When: 7 Tuesday, Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

Radio: Cat Country (100.3 FM).

Records: UND 11-7, 14-14; Northern Colorado 10-8, 16-11.

Of note: UND is 41-21 all-time against Northern Colorado.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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