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UND WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Tradition important part of the UND program

And there are several of those players on the NCAA tournament-bound UND team.

Senior UND standout Madi Buck, who was named the 2014 Big Sky Player of the Year, graduated from Bismarck Century. Buck led all UND scorers in Saturday’s Big Sky Conference championship game win over Montana, finishing with 14 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Despite the distance between Bismarck and Grand Forks, Buck knew what type of program she was going to be playing for when she committed.

“I think the biggest thing that drew me here was the tradition and the passion that the Grand Forks community has for this program,” said Buck. “I was fortunate enough that they were interested in me. … I’m just really happy and blessed to be here.”

After Saturday’s 72-55 win over Montana, UND is headed to the NCAA Division I tournament in only the second year of playing in the Big Sky. While this will be the first trip to the NCAA Division I tournament, UND is no stranger to post-season success, both at the DI and DII levels.

The 2009-10 season saw the program take home its first championship in the DI era, when  UND won the Great West Conference regular-season championship. Two seasons later, North Dakota won the Great West postseason tournament.

UND was a consistent national contender in Division II, winning titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999. North Dakota was runner-up in 2001.

Reserve center Emily Evers grew up following the program, so the Grand Forks Red River High School product knows about the strong tradition.

“I’ve been a huge UND fan for my entire life,” said Evers. “When they got those three titles in the late ’90s it was an unreal experience and the fans were unreal. I remember being at the games and it was just crazy. … Tonight it felt like that again.”

Evers’ basket with a little more than 10 minutes to play gave UND its biggest lead up to that point at 56-37.  

For the junior, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes off the bench, the decision to play at UND wasn’t a difficult one when she was recruited by former coach Gene Roebuck.

“I went to UND camps since as young as I could have got there; I went to every single one,’’ Evers said. “When coach Roebuck came up to me and said, ‘You look like a good player. Keep working hard and we might offer you a scholarship one day,’ I took that to heart. That’s been my dream since I was 2 years old, to play here. It’s an unreal experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Along with Evers and Buck, there are three other North Dakota natives on the roster — Siri Burck (Fargo), Ellie Ripplinger (Grand Forks), and Katie Houdek (Grafton).

When Montana made its run late in Saturday’s game, it was Burck who put an end to it.

Following a Lady Griz three-pointer that cut UND’s lead to 10 with a little more than three minutes to play, Burck hit a 3-pointer then followed it with a lay-up on the next possession to extend UND’s lead to 68-53.     

“Grand Forks has such a great college-town community,” said Burck, a Fargo South graduate. “All of the fans here, that’s what has been behind us all season. Being from North Dakota just makes it that much more special. … We grew up with it and we love it.

“When I got contacted by coach Brewster and Roebuck it was a dream come true and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”