MEN'S BASKETBALL: Finally, some reasons to cheer
After every home game, UND men's basketball coach Brian Jones immediately goes on the air with play-by-play guy Paul Ralston to discuss how the Fighting Hawks performed--win or lose.
After every home game, UND men's basketball coach Brian Jones immediately goes on the air with play-by-play guy Paul Ralston to discuss how the Fighting Hawks performed-win or lose.
During that time, UND players head to the Fighting Hawks' locker room and wait for Jones to conclude his postgame radio interview.
After UND beat Weber State 78-71 on Saturday at The Betty-a win that may or may not be a season-changer-UND players didn't wait for their coach. They came back onto the floor to thank the 100 or so students and long-time fans who witnessed-and participated in-one of the best men's basketball games in Grand Forks for quite a while.
Junior guard Quinton Hooker-the face of this season's emerging Big Sky contender-stood at halfcourt clapping his hands and saying, "Thank you, thank you," as fans filed out. He and some of his teammates then individually thanked fans as they left.
The players certainly were appreciative of the support they received from the football players and other students, who, by the way, were hilarious in some of their antics in trying to rattle Weber State players.
Also, some of UND's long-time fans perhaps haven't cheered that much-or loudly-since the days of Hyslop Hysteria. It was that good of a game.
The days when basketball was on par-or at least in the same zip code-with UND men's hockey may not ever return to Grand Forks.
Against Weber State, however, we saw what could be the start of something special for UND men's basketball-a revival of sorts that may lead to the Fighting Hawks to bigger and better things in the Big Sky Conference.
UND had never beaten Weber State before Saturday. The Hawks were 0-8 against the Wildcats, who have been considered the face of the Big Sky men's basketball for years.
A win over Weber, however, does not mean UND is headed for a league championship.
It was the way UND beat Weber that was impressive. The Hawks were as athletic as Weber; they didn't back down from the Wildcats; and there was an atmosphere in the Betty-finally-that can make the difference between home wins and losses.
"Outside of the NDSU game, that was probably the best crowd we've had in quite a while," UND coach Brian Jones said. "One, because of their energy. Two, the student-body was unbelievable. They were really active.
"Everyone in the community is starting to rally around this team and that's easy to do when our guys go out and compete the way they do. Our guys are taking ownership in what North Dakota is all about. And you're starting to see the community rally around them."
UND is 7-4 in the Big Sky and 12-10 overall. A year ago, UND won eight games total and lost all but one Big Sky game at home.
There wasn't much to cheer about.
There is this season. This is the most athletic team Jones has had since taking over the program a decade ago. This team also appears to care deeply about each member. Now, it's a team that has defeated the league's marquee program.
A league title may not happen this season. Then again, it may. The bottom line from the Weber game simply is this: UND can compete with the league's best and the Hawks will be around for a while as the top eight players return next season.
If the Weber game is any indication, the final month of the league season will be a lot of fun.
And that's something we haven't been able to say for a while.