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It's a different season and players have moved on. But the memory of UND's finish last season in the Great West Conference postseason tournament still lingers for the Sioux who remain. UND let a 20-point lead slip away in the tournament final against Utah Valley. After rolling through the regular season, the Sioux lost to Utah Valley 70-62 in the postseason tournament title game in Orem, Utah. UND, 5-11 overall, hosts Utah Valley tonight. How much is last year's game on the minds of UND players? "That was a tough loss," UND coach Gene Roebuck said.
When UND coach Brian Jones watched film of tonight's opponent Utah Valley, he had a flashback to last season. "Utah Valley is a lot like South Dakota was last year," Jones said. "They're big; they can score and they're well coached. They can beat you in a lot of areas." South Dakota had UND's number last season. But the Sioux turned the tables last week, beating the Coyotes in the Great West Conference opener. The Coyotes carried the label as the league favorite into the Great West season.
Dan Hammer said change, in some cases, brings sacrifice. And Hammer, the seven-year play-by-play voice of UND Sioux football, likely will have to sacrifice something he enjoys with his upcoming career change. Hammer said Tuesday he will become the sports director of "Valley News Live," the combined KVLY-KXJB newscasts. He starts his new job Monday. His move from Radio Fargo-Moorhead, where he has been the sports director for the last four years, likely means an end to his years of calling Sioux football games. "With change, comes sacrifice," Hammer said.
UND hasn't had many good performances against South Dakota in recent years. The Coyotes had won 13 of the previous 15 games against the Sioux before Saturday's Pack the House game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. So, how would Sioux coach Brian Jones rate UND's solid 75-62 win against South Dakota in the Great West Conference opener for both teams? "It's a big win, obviously, because it's the start of our league play and winning a rival game is really big -- especially for a team that has struggled against USD in the regular season," Jones said.
Earlier in the week, Minnesota coach Don Lucia said his team usually wins games by a 3-2 score. How prophetic. Minnesota was outshot, survived a handful of crunching hits by UND, and had to weather a late UND surge. But in the end, the Gophers managed to skate away with a 3-2 win before a white-out crowd of 11,884 Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena. "We're not going to score five goals up here," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.
UND freshmen Troy Huff doesn't know a lot about South Dakota, the Sioux opponent Saturday in the Great West Conference men's basketball opener for both teams. He's been told one thing, however. The game likely won't be as fast paced as UND's previous two outings against Longwood University of Virginia and Minot State -- both Sioux wins. "It'll be slower than usual," Huff said. "They play a zone. It's going to be a big adjustment." The Sioux guard from Milwaukee also may not be aware of the history between the programs.
UND accomplished a first Thursday night in its 79-50 win against Minot State before 1,895 fans at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. The Sioux won back-to-back games for the first time this season. A third straight win, however, would even be bigger. That's because it would come Saturday against South Dakota in the Great West Conference opener for both teams.
UND is losing one of its assistant football coaches. Sioux offensive line coach Rod Carey will take a similar position at Northern Illinois University, UND coach Chris Mussman said Wednesday. Carey has been on the Sioux staff for the past three years. "It's a good move for Rod," Mussman said. "I'm happy for him." UND played Northern Illinois last season, losing 23-17 in DeKalb. Northern Illinois, a member of the Mid-American Conference, is a FBS program and has competed in bowl games the last two seasons.
Brian Lillemoen didn't reach the scoring column, but a play made by the Grand Forks Red River senior in the closing seconds was as big as any produced by his teammates in the previous 35 minutes. Lillemoen chased down a rebound off a missed free throw with 12 seconds remaining. His hustle led to two Mac Kroeplin free throws -- points that help seal Red River's 59-56 win against East Grand Forks Senior High on Tuesday night in the Rider gym. With Red River leading 57-56, Kroeplin missed the front end of a bonus with 12 seconds to go.
UND carried a 2-11 record into its game against Western Kentucky, a Sun Belt Conference program that won 21 games last season.