Roughly seven hours after the UND men’s basketball team scored its most points ever in The Betty, the players assembled at 6 a.m. Wednesday to travel to a Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Fort Myers, Fla.
A few hours later, the UND women’s team -- fresh off a game in which it established a single-game program rebound record -- took off for back-to-back games in South Carolina.
The trips could tell more about where both programs are headed this season.
Both programs are facing uncertainty they haven’t encountered in a handful of sesaons.
The men’s team has a new coach in Paul Sather; the women’s team -- under coach Travis Brewster -- has seven freshmen on its roster. And the seven have shown early signs that they will contribute this season and may be the face of the program for the next four years.
The UND men’s team will play Florida Gulf today, Georgia Southern on Saturday and Campbell on Sunday. All three are low- to mid-major programs like UND and the competition could give the Hawks an idea how they’ll fare in a tournament setting -- like the year-end Summit League tourney that determines a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The combined record of the three teams is 9-8, with Campbell sitting at 4-1.
“These are three good teams and for us it’s about trying to find ways to improve and get better,” said Sather. “January 2nd (the start of Summit play) is our goal and we want to be fine in where we’re at. If it happens earlier, great. But we can’t get caught up in what a record or a scoreboard says; we just have to keep finding ways to improve. I know that sounds like coach talk but I’m telling you that you have to buy into that. Otherwise, you get stuck.”
The one-sided UND 115-50 win Tuesday over North Central University was expected and the Hawks’ home point total was the most for the program since it moved into The Betty in 2004.
The win gave 2-4 UND a confidence boost after four-straight road losses -- including setbacks against No. 8 Gonzaga and Minnesota.
It also allowed a handful of reserves to get needed playing time. One player who benefitted was 6-foot-9 freshman forward Gertautus Urbonavicius. The muscular forward scored 20 points and dominated inside.
The Lithuanian, who has played in Europe and went to high school in Florida, has an upside for the Hawks.
“He’s a good athlete; he has some pop in those legs,” said Sather. “And he’s a terrific young man. He’s a terrific guy to coach. There is a great upside with him.”
Urbonavicius played center in Europe and Florida. He’s now a power forward so the adjustment will take some time, he said.
“It’s been a medium adjustment,” he said. “I’m posting up more and playing inside. I just got to do what I have to do.”
Urbonavicius said he’s enjoyed his time in Grand Forks. “The people and community are amazing,” said Urbonavicius, who speaks Lithuanian, English and understands some Russian and German. “Everyone is taking care of each other and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Back to his alma mater
The UND women’s team will play South Carolina State today and Charleston Southern on Saturday. After this weekend, the Hawks will play another road game Dec. 9 at SMU.
Brewster played his college ball at Charleston Southern. He said his team will learn a lot about the Charleston history.
And he’s hoping he’ll learn more about his youthful team, one that grabbed a single-game record 72 rebounds against Northland College during Tuesday night’s 118-35 win.
“A lot of people haven’t been down to Charleston and there is a lot of history down there,” said Brewster. “Our players will get a chance to see some of that.
“But it’s also a chance to get that tournament feel of playing back-to-back and being able to test yourself against teams from other conferences.”
UND is 5-2 and already has wins against teams from the Western Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley Conference, the Atlantic 10 Conference and Sun Belt Conference.