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UND WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Sprains don't strain

The holiday break could have been better for UND senior Kelsey Maffin. It's not a lot of fun to spend a break from basketball and school with a badly sprained ankle.

The holiday break could have been better for UND senior Kelsey Maffin. It's not a lot of fun to spend a break from basketball and school with a badly sprained ankle.

"That ruined my Christmas break," Maffin said.

Maffin suffered a sprained ankle against Bemidji State on Dec. 20. The next day, she faced an eight-hour trip home to Van Meter, Iowa. But she pulled rank to help make the trip easier.

"I made Mallory (Youngblut) drive the whole way," Maffin said, referring to the redshirt freshman from Davenport, Iowa.

The sprain Maffin's second of the season may have ruined her holiday break. But the return of the forward ruined South Dakota's chances of an upset last week in Vermillion.

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Maffin wasn't supposed to play much, but she wound up playing 20 minutes. She scored eight points and helped the top-ranked Sioux beat South Dakota 81-79 in overtime.

"I was supposed to keep my minutes limited," Maffin said. "But my ankle felt great. Coach (Gene Roebuck) asked me how I felt every time I came out. I said I felt great."

Maffin scored one of her four baskets in overtime one that put the Sioux up 79-76. And she had no hesitation in taking a shot with the game on the line. Maffin missed a shot from the baseline, but teammate Kierah Kimbrough rebounded the ball and her last-second putback gave UND the win.

Maffin's inspired play caught the attention of South Dakota coach Chad Lavin.

"Kelsey's basket in overtime was huge," Lavin said. "I take my hat off to her. I thought she was done for the year."

Maffin sprained her other ankle after UND's season-opening tournament in Florida. "I'm out of ankles," she said.

The setbacks haven't slowed Maffin or the Sioux, who take a 3-0 North Central Conference record and 20-1 overall mark into Saturday's home game against Nebraska-Omaha.

"It's frustrating, though," Maffin said. "You have to work twice as hard to get back, to get your shot back and to get your conditioning back. But with the team we have, we have players who can step up and fill the role."

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UND's bench has been one of its strengths this season. Eleven of UND's players have played nine or more minutes per game, with nine playing 14 or more minutes. The bench is averaging approximately 25 points per game.

Maffin's two sprained ankles aren't the first time in her career that she's had to deal with an injury.

"Kelsey has faced a lot of adversity in her career," Roebuck said. "In her sophomore year, she couldn't play in the national tournament because of a knee injury."

But she fought through that setback, just as she did with two sprained ankles this season.

"We were very cautious with Kelsey," Roebuck said about her return last week. "She hadn't played in about a month. But she gave us a huge lift off the bench. She showed a lot of leadership by hitting that big shot in overtime."

Nebraska-Omaha will be the next team to take a shot at the Sioux. The Mavericks entered the week shooting a league-best 46.1 percent from the field. The Mavericks and the Sioux are the only two teams to average more than 80 points.

The Mavericks, however, have dropped their first three NCC games of the season, losing to Augustana, Minnesota-Duluth and South Dakota. However, they were outscored by a total of nine points in their first two games.

The pressure may be on Omaha, but Roebuck doesn't look at it that way.

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"We can't look at Omaha and say they need a win," he said. "We need a win. We're playing at home. No one has the upper hand at this time. Between the top and bottom of the league, the difference in scoring isn't much."

South Dakota entered the week 0-2 and in last place. But only four points separated the Coyotes from an unbeaten NCC record heading into Thursday night's game against Omaha. South Dakota, however, pulled away in the second half for a 70-55 win to improve to 1-2. UND, meanwhile, has outscored its three league opponents by a combined 35 points.

In what may be the biggest surprise so far in NCC play is St. Cloud State's 1-3 record. The Huskies, who have been to the last two NCAA Division II Elite Eight tournaments, have surrendered 309 points, the most in NCC play. But five of St. Cloud State's remaining NCC games will be in Halenbeck Hall. "Protecting your home court is the big thing," Roebuck said.

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

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