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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UND to close out nonconference season against Minnesota

Two years ago, UND had a golden chance to beat the Minnesota Gophers on their home court. It didn't happen as the Gophers rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat UND 46-44 at Williams Arena. Last season, UND had another shot at the Gophers at The...

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Two years ago, UND had a golden chance to beat the Minnesota Gophers on their home court.

It didn’t happen as the Gophers rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat UND 46-44 at Williams Arena.

Last season, UND had another shot at the Gophers at The Betty. But Minnesota, despite losing their top player -- Rachel Banham -- to a season-ending knee injury, beat North Dakota 68-55.

UND will play the Gophers again Wednesday at Williams Arena.

The fact that UND, considered a mid-major program, is playing a team from a Power Five Conference no longer matters to the Fighting Hawks.

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The past two seasons, UND has had its chances against the Gophers.

And a handful of UND players are from the Twin Cities, which provides added meaning to the game.

“I always look forward to the Minnesota game,” said UND junior guard Leah Szabla, who is from Brooklyn Park, Minn. “That’s a huge game for me. I have lots of family and friends who come to that game.

“And it would be huge for us to get a Big Ten win.”

The 6-3 Gophers are led by Banham, the program’s career scoring leader. Banham averages 23.9 points per game, fifth in the country and second in the Big Ten. But she has plenty of scoring help from Carlie Wagner.

Banham and Wagner (20.0 ppg) are the No. 2 scoring duo in the country. And Banham is the only player in the country to have at least 20 points in each of her team’s games so far this season.

The game is UND’s final nonconference matchup of the season. Next week, UND begins Big Sky Conference play at Idaho and Eastern Washington.

The Minnesota game has been an enjoyable one for UND.

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“We have a lot of players from that area and they’re excited about it because they’ll be playing in front of their families and friends,” said UND coach Travis Brewster. “But it’s an opportunity for us to play a Big Ten school and see how we fare.

“They do a tremendous job with the 2-3 zone and they also like to push the tempo.”

But the big concern for UND remains Banham, the dynamic 5-foot-9 guard who broke Lindsey Whalen’s career scoring record.

“We’re going to have to contain her the best we can and at the same time take advantage of our opportunities,” said Brewster.

UND will be led by Makailah Dyer and Mia Loyd, another Twin Cities resident.

Dyer averages 14.1 points while Loyd, the Big Sky Conference preseason player of the season, averages nearly a double-double -- 13.6 points and 9.7 rebounds.

Dyer’s scoring load has increased this season as the junior has been able to get to the free-thrown line more often with her ability to drive the lane.

“I’m trying to be more aggressive this season,” said Dyer, who has been to the line 56 times. “Coach said he doesn’t want me to settle for jump shots all the time.”

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She’s also looking forward to playing the Gophers. And she knows Banham is the key.

“She’s back and she’s a tough matchup,” said Dyer. “But I’m still excited for the game.”

 

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor at the Herald.


He has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1995, serving as the UND football and basketball beat writer as well as serving as the sports editor.



He is a UND graduate and has been writing sports since the late 1970s.



Follow him on Twitter @waynenelsongf. You can reach him at (701) 780-1268 or wnelson@gfherald.com.
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