Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
- Member for
- 5 years 5 months
Weber State, most likely, made its final trip to The Betty on Saturday. And that's too bad. The UND-Weber State games in the Big Sky Conference have been some of the more highly competitive and entertaining games the Hawks have had since their arrival in the league in 2012. But UND is leaving the Big Sky for the Summit League next season. So, UND may have had a little extra in its tank for Weber's final scheduled trip to Grand Forks as the Hawks—in another solid outing—downed Weber 89-79 before 2,188 fans.
Nearly a month ago, UND players left the McCarthey Athletic Center on the campus of Gonzaga University feeling pretty good. They just pushed No. 15 Gonzaga to the limit before falling in overtime. With a performance like that, UND felt confident heading into Big Sky Conference play. Somehow, UND players lost that feeling as the Hawks dropped their first four league games—all by double digits.
The start to the Big Sky Conference men's basketball season isn't what UND anticipated. The Fighting Hawks are 0-4 in the league heading into tonight's home game against Idaho State at The Betty. If there is a silver lining, it could be this: UND's four Big Sky opponents so far are a combined 13-3 in league play, including 4-0 Montana—the team that appears to be the conference favorite after the first two weeks.
In three of UND's past four games, the Fighting Hawks struggled to hold second-half leads. The Hawks didn't hold any, and as a consequence, came into Saturday's game against Montana State on a four-game losing streak. "The last four games, we shot ourselves in the foot," said UND junior forward Fallyn Freije. "Teams didn't necessarily beat us." UND, however, held the lead against Montana State on Saturday as the Hawks put together four solid quarters of basketball in beating the Bobcats 79-70 at The Betty before 1,523 fans.
For years, Montana was one of the dominant teams in Big Sky Conference women's basketball. But injuries the past two seasons took their toll on the Griz. The Griz didn't win a road game last season and dropped their two true road games this season. Montana snapped its road woes Thursday night at The Betty at the expense of UND. In a methodical game, Montana dominated the paint and hit timely 3-pointers to down UND 54-43 before 1,325 fans.
During the past two seasons, UND has had its fair share of success on the road in the Big Sky Conference, where travel is demanding to say the least. But the Fighting Hawks opened this season with back-to-back road losses last week. "Winning on the road is tough and we've had success doing it," said UND coach Travis Brewster. "We lost games by five and four points. You could go back and look at what we could have done differently. But it comes down to making the right play at the right time."
When UND men's basketball moved to Division I in 2008, thoughts of making the NCAA Tournament were few and far between. The Hawks had no real conference home; nonconference games were hard to schedule; and recruiting was a challenge Then, Quinton Hooker decided to play basketball at UND. Things began to change, as Hooker—year-by-year—began to take over the program, continually pushing it toward success. In his senior year, Hooker carried UND basketball to a Big Sky Conference tile and the program's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The good news was that UND shot the basketball better, shooting 43 percent overall and 37 percent on 3-point attempts. That's still not great, but it was considerably better than the Fighting Hawks' showing two nights earlier against Idaho and for much of the season as well. However, there was bad news, too. UND committed 21 turnovers—a handful at crunch time—and that was the difference in Eastern Washington's 77-64 win over the Hawks on Sunday in a Big Sky Conference game before 1,548 fans at The Betty.
Exactly one year ago, UND opened its Big Sky Conference men's basketball season at Portland State. The Fighting Hawks were pummeled in that Dec. 29 game, 99-62. On Friday, the Hawks opened their 2017-18 Big Sky season and were roughed up by Idaho 74-57 before 1,597 fans at The Betty. Last year, UND learned from that opening-game blowout. The Hawks regrouped and went on to win the Big Sky title. So, the teaching moment after Idaho—the league preseason favorite—rolled past the Hawks was this: It's a long season and there is no reason to hit the panic button.
In the past two seasons, Dale Jones played a total of 11 games at Iowa. Injuries derailed what he hoped would have been a successful collegiate basketball career. “It might not have been the outcome I necessarily wanted,” said Jones. The NCAA, however, granted Jones a sixth year of eligibility since he lost two full seasons at Iowa. Jones transferred to UND in the offseason and now is making the most of his final season.