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MILLER: UND adjusting to a guard shuffle

When the UND men's basketball team opens the season against lower competition in Crown College and Mayville State, it makes it difficult to assess the results.

University of North Dakota's Leah Szabla (1), center tries to move past Iowa's Tania Davis (11), left, and Ally Disterhoft (2) at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, ND on Wednesday, November 16, 2016. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)
University of North Dakota's Leah Szabla (1), center tries to move past Iowa's Tania Davis (11), left, and Ally Disterhoft (2) at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, ND on Wednesday, November 16, 2016. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)

When the UND men's basketball team opens the season against lower competition in Crown College and Mayville State, it makes it difficult to assess the results.

So, too, is it difficult to pinpoint the UND women's basketball team when it starts the year against Drake, Texas Tech and Iowa in a six-day span.

In Iowa's 75-60 win over the Fighting Hawks on Wednesday night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, though, we were able to piece together a few early trends.

One of those takeaways is that UND has some growing pains with its guard shuffle, where former point guard Leah Szabla has been moved to shooting guard.

The move has allowed Szabla to become a stronger scoring force. She scored 12 points against Iowa and came into the game averaging 23 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting.

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The move, though, doesn't come without its challenges. The adjustment has created some newcomers taking over the ball-handling duties.

Sophomore Grace Sawatzke and junior college transfer Chastity Franklin shared the role against the Hawkeyes.

The three players involved most closely in the shuffle (Szabla, Sawatzke and Franklin) combined for 14 of UND's 19 turnovers against Iowa.

"It takes time," UND coach Travis Brewster said. "They just need to rely on their teammates instead of trying to create too much themselves."

After Iowa jumped out to a 24-15 lead after one quarter, UND was able to chip away at the lead and tie the game at 40 in the third quarter and later pull within single digits in the fourth quarter.

That in itself was impressive, considering Iowa beat UND by more than 20 points in each of the first two meetings between the programs.

But UND wasn't able to handle the ball down the stretch, helping Iowa to score 21 points off turnovers.

Still, there's plenty of promise for the Fighting Hawks if it can solve its ball-handling woes.

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UND tied Iowa in rebounding at 39 apiece. The Hawkeyes came in to Grand Forks with back-to-back 50-rebound showings.

The Fighting Hawks also forced Iowa into 22 turnovers.

But even though the schedule will eventually ease and provide a better look at the program's position in the Big Sky Conference, Brewster isn't satisfied with just competing against mid-major competition.

"They're a Big Ten school; that's great," Brewster said. "But we don't just want to be good in the Big Sky. We want to be a good program top to bottom. That's going to take some work."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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