Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota and North Dakota State are nearing the heart of their respective conference seasons. The Fighting Hawks are six games into their Big Sky Conference season while NDSU is four games into Summit League play. A nonconference game for either team at this point of the season isn't ideal. But playing your rival makes the nonconference game a lot easier to take.
GRAND FORKS — Weber State, most likely, made its final trip to The Betty on Saturday, Jan. 13. And that's too bad. The University of North Dakota-Weber State games in the Big Sky Conference have been some of the more highly competitive and entertaining games the Hawks have had since their arrival in the league in 2012. But UND is leaving the Big Sky for the Summit League next season. So, UND may have had a little extra in its tank for Weber's final scheduled trip to Grand Forks as the Hawks—in another solid outing—downed Weber 89-79 before 2,188 fans.
GRAND FORKS — Nearly a month ago, University of North Dakota players left the McCarthey Athletic Center on the campus of Gonzaga University feeling pretty good. They just pushed No. 15 Gonzaga to the limit before falling in overtime. With a performance like that, UND felt confident heading into Big Sky Conference play. Somehow, UND players lost that feeling as the Hawks dropped their first four league games—all by double digits.
GRAND FORKS, N.D.—The start to the Big Sky Conference men's basketball season isn't what the University of North Dakota anticipated. The Fighting Hawks are 0-4 in the league heading into tonight's home game against Idaho State at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, here. If there is a silver lining, it could be this: Thus far, UND's four Big Sky opponents are a combined 13-3 in league play, including 4-0 Montana—the team that appears to be the conference favorite after the first two weeks.
GRAND FORKS — The good news was that the University of North Dakota shot the basketball better, shooting 43 percent overall and 37 percent on 3-point attempts. That's still not great, but it was considerably better than the Fighting Hawks' showing two nights earlier against Idaho and for much of the season as well. However, there was bad news, too. UND committed 21 turnovers—a handful at crunch time—and that was the difference in Eastern Washington's 77-64 win over the Hawks on Sunday, Dec. 31, in a Big Sky Conference game before 1,548 fans at The Betty.
GRAND FORKS—Exactly one year ago, the University of North Dakota men's basketball team opened its Big Sky Conference men's basketball season at Portland State. The Fighting Hawks were pummeled in that Dec. 29, 2018, game, 99-62. On Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, the Hawks opened their 2017-18 Big Sky season and were roughed up by Idaho 74-57 before 1,597 fans at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Last year, UND learned from that opening-game blowout. The Hawks regrouped and went on to win the Big Sky title.
GRAND FORKS—In the past two seasons, Dale Jones played a total of 11 games at Iowa. Injuries derailed what he hoped would have been a successful collegiate basketball career. "It might not have been the outcome I necessarily wanted," said Jones. The NCAA, however, granted Jones a sixth year of eligibility since he lost two full seasons at Iowa. Jones transferred to the University of North Dakota n the offseason and now is making the most of his final season.
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota wrapped up its most demanding nonconference schedule in program history with an overtime loss at No. 19 Gonzaga on Dec. 16. The Fighting Hawks nearly pulled off the upset of the college basketball season — leading much of the game against the Zags, who were a 30-point favorite. But the gauntlet of tough games did not end for the Hawks. UND opens Big Sky Conference play Friday night, Dec. 29, at The Betty against preseason league favorite Idaho.
SPOKANE, Wash.—As a handful of University of North Dakota basketball fans visited with Creighton coach Greg McDermott recently in Omaha, discussion turned toward Gonzaga—the Fighting Hawks' opponent Saturday, Dec. 16, at the McCarthy Center. Creighton's size and length impressed the UND fans, who later watched the Bluejays rip the Hawks 111-68. "Wait until you guys play Gonzaga," said McDermott, a former UND assistant whose team lost a 91-74 decision to the Bulldogs earlier this month. "They're a lot bigger."
GRAND FORKS — At 6-foot-7, University of North Dakota junior center Conner Avants has been at a size disadvantage so far this season against teams such as Nebraska and Creighton. And Gonzaga, next week's opponent on UND's brutal nonconference schedule, supposedly is bigger than both Nebraska and Creighton. But it doesn't matter to the UND center. Avants has stayed within UND's system and is producing — averaging 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as the Fighting Hawks prepare for today's in-state rivalry game against North Dakota State.