WAYNE NELSON: Wait continues for a UND men's basketball resurgence
The majority of the UND men's basketball fans have seen a lot of games, to say the least. By and large, UND's basketball fan base is older -- and most were around during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a time when Hyslop Hysteria reigned on campus.
The majority of the UND men’s basketball fans have seen a lot of games, to say the least. By and large, UND’s basketball fan base is older -- and most were around during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a time when Hyslop Hysteria reigned on campus.
Yes, UND hockey was important during those years as well. However, if you wanted to go to a game at the old Engelstad Arena -- seating capacity around 6,000 -- you could do so on most given nights.
Hyslop, however, was special in those days. It was hot inside. Crowds were large and loud. The horseshoe venue wasn’t fancy. But the basketball teams coached by Rich Glas in those days provided great entertainment and his teams made a couple of serious runs at a Division II national title.
Basketball may or may not have been the campus king, but it was close.
Today, UND men’s hockey drives the athletic bus -- a big one at that. Clearly, it’s the school’s most prominent and most successful program.
The men’s basketball success, meanwhile, began to wane in the late 1990s. Then, UND made the jump to Division I. And that move has been harder on UND men’s basketball than any other program on campus.
Saturday’s UND-Northern Colorado game, however, provided a glimpse of what could be -- a men’s basketball resurgence.
UND fell to Northern Colorado 88-78 in overtime. UND fielded one of its biggest -- if not biggest -- crowds in the Division I era, 2,321 fans. However, a 37-degree day in mid-January may have helped pad that number.
And what the UND fans saw hopefully will bring them back.
UND did lose, but the athleticism on this Brian Jones team may be the best he’s had in his eight prior seasons as the North Dakota coach. When Estan Tyler tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds to go, it was one of the loudest moments for UND men’s basketball in quite some time.
Some passion for UND men’s basketball, it appears, is still there. But the bottom line is winning. And Jones, UND players and fans all know that.
There is a motto in the newspaper business that can be tied to athletics: You can sell a dysfunctional team; you can sell a winning team; but you’ll have a hard time selling a .500 team.
UND certainly hasn’t fielded dysfunctional teams. But things have been pretty vanilla for the past few seasons.
The program needs a spark. And Tyler and his teammates nearly provided a big one Saturday. A dramatic comeback UND win before a big crowd may have produced some much-needed traction for the program.
However, the Big Sky Conference coaches who have left The Betty this season all have said -- without prompting -- that this UND team could be special, perhaps later this season or next season because of its athleticism.
“(UND) has a lot of players new to each other,” said Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill. “It takes time. Brian is a great coach. You can see they have all the pieces. When you have that many new guys, it takes time to jell. This team will be fine.”
But will the fans support a team that supposedly has a great deal of potential?
UND hopes so.
Jones had special praise for the fans who turned out Saturday. Before the game, an unruly microphone made the delivery of the national anthem somewhat difficult for the singer.
UND fans, however, pitched in.
“That touched me,” said Jones. “Obviously, the mic didn’t work. So, they all started singing to help her get through the anthem. How touching is that?”
But he knows his players have to deliver wins.
“My hope is that these fans will see a group that competes and has that fight,” said Jones. “That’s what North Dakota is all about to me, kids who do things the right way, who show passion and do things unselfishly. That’s what our fans love to see. And that’s what I think our fans will get for the rest of the season.”
Passion and doing things the right away aside, UND still has to produce on the floor.
Who knows? If the wins come and the potential of this team materializes, we may see more days like Saturday at The Betty.