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Duluth denies the Sioux

Matt Hockett admits it was hard to walk around the Minnesota-Duluth campus in late January. The Bulldogs were in the midst of a six-game North Central Conference losing streak.

Matt Hockett admits it was hard to walk around the Minnesota-Duluth campus in late January. The Bulldogs were in the midst of a six-game North Central Conference losing streak.

Hockett, and followers of college basketball, knew the team had way too much talent to be 0-for-January.

February brought with it colder weather but a much hotter Duluth team. That was evident in the first round of Wednesday's North Central Conference tournament, where the Bulldogs used a big second half to blow by UND 85-63 before 1,069 at Romano Gymnasium.

UND ended its first season under coach Brian Jones at 11-17.

Fourth-seeded Duluth (16-12) advances to play top-seeded South Dakota (21-6) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Vermillion, S.D. The Bulldogs, who won 83-75 at South Dakota in a regular-season matchup on Feb. 17, feel they need to win the conference tournament in order to make next week's NCAA Division II regional tournament.


"If tonight isn't an example of our renewed confidence, I don't know what is," Hockett said. "Our guys have that swagger to their step back, and guys are just having fun. Just look at the smile on their faces. Everybody's having fun when you're winning. Now we haven't lost in February and we hope to extend that into March. Now walking around campus, there's nothing like it."

"We went from the depths of hell to where we're at now," Duluth coach Gary Holquist. "Our guys feel like they've been tournament tested for a month now, and the way we stuck it out is a real testament to our guys. They're great character guys who don't want their season to end."

Good game early

Duluth finished the regular season on Saturday with a 91-67 rout of the Sioux at Romano. Holquist was worried UND would come out energized after the embarrassing loss, and for most of the first half on Thursday, that was indeed the case.

But while UND had the athleticism, it didn't have the long-range shooting to match Duluth. The Bulldogs' inside-outside play, ball movement and balance enabled them to shoot 56.7 percent on Wednesday, including 8-for-19 from beyond the arc.

"Duluth is playing the best of any team in the league right now," Jones said. "When they get it going inside-and-out like that, they are awfully tough to beat. I could see them winning the tournament. They're physical and have beaten the top two teams in this league. They struggled early, but now their seniors, in particular, are playing with the sense of urgency they should, and that's what you want."

The Bulldogs took a 46-40 lead at the half thanks to Bryan Foss' 15 points before the senior switched to a pass-first mode in the second half as Duluth clamped down on defense. The Bulldogs outscored UND 39-23 the rest of the way as John Vaudreuil and Hockett played big second halves as UMD had five players reach double figures.

Ervin Youmans (12) and Mark Kruse (10) were in double figures for UND.


Hockett was quick to credit Duluth's fans, including Bulldog quarterback Ted Schlafke, who looked like an Olympic bobsled team member cheering in the stands.

"We might not have the biggest number, but we have the loudest ones, definitely," Hockett said. "They come and have passion every game. You'd have to think there was 2,000 people there. I don't know what they were wearing. It looked like something my dad would wear back in the day, and for us seniors, playing in our last game in Romano, that is definitely something to remember it by."

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