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UND WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: A role reversal for UND

Usually, UND is the team to beat in the final weeks of the North Central Conference season. With 11 NCC titles, seven league postseason titles and three NCAA Division II national titles, the Sioux traditionally have been the favorites in late-sea...

Usually, UND is the team to beat in the final weeks of the North Central Conference season.

With 11 NCC titles, seven league postseason titles and three NCAA Division II national titles, the Sioux traditionally have been the favorites in late-season showdowns for nearly 20 years.

Tonight, the Sioux perhaps find themselves as the underdog in their NCC showdown against South Dakota in Vermillion.

"I think South Dakota has a bigger target on their back than we do because they haven't lost a conference game," UND senior Ashley Langen said. "There is a lot of pressure to keep that going."

South Dakota is 8-0 in the league and 22-1 overall, while the Sioux are 8-1 and 23-1. UND's lone loss was a 70-67 setback against South Dakota last month in Grand Forks.

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If South Dakota wins, the Coyotes will be in great shape to host both the NCC postseason tournament and the more important Division II North Central Region playoffs.

A UND win could give the Sioux the No. 1 ranking in next week's North Central Region poll and the inside track to host the regional tournament, but it would not necessarily mean home-court advantage in the league playoffs.

If UND and South Dakota each finish with one loss in the league, a coin flip determines which team will host the postseason semifinals and championship game.

"This game can give us a stepping stone for what we want to accomplish," UND coach Gene Roebuck said.

Not much has changed since the teams' meeting Jan. 19 in Grand Forks. The Sioux have won six games convincingly, outscoring opponents by an average of 31.2 points per game.

South Dakota has outscored its five opponents by 18.8 points since its game against the Sioux.

The Sioux have been more aggressive offensively since the South Dakota game.

"In watching film of the South Dakota game, we didn't attack," Roebuck said. "We didn't play well. Right now, we're a better basketball team. We work hard on every possession."

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South Dakota is a perimeter-oriented team, led by the outside scoring of Jeana Hoffman (18.1 ppg). Statistically, the Coyotes are not overwhelming. They shoot 44 percent from the field and 38 percent on 3-point attempts. They outrebound teams by an average of 36-32.

UND averages 48.5 percent from the field and 35.1 percent on 3-point attempts. The Sioux strength is inside. Six-foot-2 center Langen and 6-1 forward Kierah Kimbrough each average 16.4 points, and the Sioux outrebound opponents 49-36.

"It was a reality check, plain and simple," Langen said of the loss to South Dakota. "We can't take our talent for granted just because we play for UND. We've come together 10-fold since that game, on and off the court."

Langen said UND's mission will be simple.

"Our game plan is to get transition baskets," said Langen, adding she's hopeful the Sioux depth will play a role.

The game will be the biggest of the NCC season. The Sioux are ranked No. 3 in the country, while South Dakota is No. 4. South Dakota is ranked No. 1 in the region, while UND is No. 2.

Guard Danye Guinn said UND has a more definite style of play since the South Dakota loss.

"They took us out of our game," Guinn said. "Ever since that game, we're playing more of an up-tempo game. And that's our style."

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South Dakota's last NCC regular-season title game in 2003. But that's the only NCC title the Coyotes have won since 1985.

The Sioux view their second meeting with South Dakota as a big - but not a make-or-break - game.

"If worse comes to worse and we have to go to South Dakota to play the conference tournament, it's not the end of the world," Langen said.

The Sioux have won two of their seven NCC postseason championships on the road.

"We put ourselves in a tough position by losing that game (to South Dakota)," Roebuck said. "But we've proven we can win on the road."

Reach Nelson at 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 268 or wnelson@gfherald.com .

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