UND makes first ever NCAA tourney appearance
GRAND FORKS — Travis Brewster picked out special dress shoes Saturday for the Big Sky Conference championship game.
“I only bring them out in certain situations,” Brewster said.
A special occasion, indeed.
UND beat Montana 72-55 in the Big Sky title game at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center to advance to the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time in school history.
The NCAA bid for the Division I tournament is the first for the program, as well as for the school’s non-hockey sports.
“We’re going dancing, and it’s going to be awesome,” said UND senior Madi Buck, who led North Dakota with 14 points against Montana.
UND, picked to finish eighth and ninth in preseason league polls, improved to 22-9 overall — one year after finishing 11-18 and missing the league tournament altogether.
“It’s something people dream about and talk about, but few get to experience,” Brewster said. “Playing in the NCAA tournament is a unique honor. We’ve got to enjoy this one and see who we draw in the tournament.”
UND will find out its opponent in the NCAA tournament when the Selection Show announces the 64-team field Monday at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Fans and media are encouraged to join the team from the Ground Round in Grand Forks for the live unveiling.
ESPN’s latest bracketology prediction had UND as a No. 14 seed in the Iowa City Regional. In women’s basketball, the NCAA typically tries to place teams in nearby regionals.
“We have no pressure,” Buck said. “A lot of people expect us to lose. That’s just how it goes. We need to do what we do, and the outcome is the outcome. We just need to play with the fire and passion (Brewster) taught us and go out with a bang.”
UND advanced behind the same formula that allowed it to cruise past Idaho State in the league semifinals. Against ISU, UND jumped out to a 19-2 lead to start the game. Against Montana in the championship, UND opened with a 10-1 run.
The lead hovered near 10 points most of the way. UND was able to get comfortable with about 12 minutes to play when Emily Evers found Buck for a corner 3-pointer late in the shot clock to give UND a 52-36 advantage.
Montana’s comeback hopes were all but dashed a few minutes later when Torry Hill, who finished with a game-high 21 points, tumbled to the floor and suffered a knee injury. Hill had to be carried off the court by teammates Kayleigh Valley and Maggie Rickman.
UND’s size and depth proved too much as it landed four players in double figures and outrebounded the Griz 40-26.
Buck led the way with 14 points, followed by 10 each from freshman point guard Leah Szabla, sophomore forward Mia Loyd and senior center Allyssa Wall. Evers also chipped in a key eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Loyd was named the tournament’s most valuable player, while Buck was selected to the all-tournament team.
UND drew 1,937 fans for the title game. As the regular season champion, UND’s ability to host the tournament proved important in a league that spans three times zones.
“If you look at the right to host, it changes the dynamic,” Brewster said. “When we got the opportunity to host, it changed everything. The mood was different, the thought process was different.”
And behind that vocal home crowd, UND was able to celebrate a historic win.
“When you’re growing up and watching the tournament, you look at people and say you want to play there and you say ‘I want to be there one day,’ “ Loyd said. “The fact that I get to, it’s unbelievable. I’m so glad I get the opportunity.”