Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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Last month, UND lost an 11-point lead and the game at Eastern Washington. On Thursday night, UND led the Eagles by 13 points at one point—only to see EWU storm back behind its full-court pressure defense. But UND survived the second meeting, hanging on for an 81-79 win in a Big Sky Conference game before 1,594 fans at The Betty. UND survived 21 turnovers, foul trouble on its leading scorer and a constant full-court press that often took the Hawks out of their offensive rhythm in the final 20 minutes.
On the opening weekend of Big Sky Conference play, UND held leads of 11 points on both Eastern Washington and Idaho. Against EWU, UND led by 11 points with 7:50 to play and led more than 25 minutes before losing 74-70. Two nights earlier, UND led Idaho by 11 points but the Vandals scored 32 third-quarter points en route to an 80-75 win. Those were two disappointing setbacks considering they were road games that were well within the Fighting Hawks' grasp.
Perhaps UND's shooting has been suspect for much of the season, evidenced by a 1-5 start in league play. Perhaps UND's shooting will be a lot better the rest of the season, evidenced by the Fighting Hawks' ability to make shots against league-leading Northern Colorado. One thing is certain, however. UND's perimeter shooting was the big difference Saturday at The Betty where the Hawks overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to beat Northern Colorado 78-70 in a Big Sky Conference women's basketball game before 1,877 fans.
UND is in its sixth season as a Big Sky Conference women's basketball member. The Fighting Hawks have had success in the league, winning two of the previous league five titles. That fact may weigh on UND this season. The Hawks are 1-5 in the Big Sky and 8-9 overall as they prepare for today's home game against Northern Colorado—the top team in the league. UND coach Travis Brewster, however, isn't overly worried about his team's record.
FARGO—Earlier in the day, Bill Chaves was introduced as UND's new athletic director. Later in the day, Chaves was sitting courtside at the UND-North Dakota State men's basketball game at the Scheels Center. So, the Fighting Hawks figured they should make a good first impression on the new AD. They did.
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.