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UND men's basketball has tough road ahead

GRAND FORKS -- After beating North Dakota last week at The Betty, Montana coach Travis DeCuire said the Big Sky Conference road swings that teams make to Grand Forks and Northern Colorado may be the toughest trip his team makes in the massive, ni...

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North Dakota’s Cortez Seales, center, goes for a layup after evading University of Northern Iowa guard Jeremy Morgan during their basketball game on Nov. 28, 2015 at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks. (FNS Photo by Nick Nelson)

GRAND FORKS - After beating North Dakota last week at The Betty, Montana coach Travis DeCuire said the Big Sky Conference road swings that teams make to Grand Forks and Northern Colorado may be the toughest trip his team makes in the massive, nine-state, three time-zone league.
UND can say the same thing about the Fighting Hawks’ trip this week - to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.
“I think the NAU-Southern Utah trip is the toughest for us because of the travel between games,” said UND coach Brian Jones.
UND plays at Northern Arizona tonight. After the NAU game, UND will bus five-plus hours on Friday to Cedar City, Utah, where they’ll meet Southern Utah on Saturday.
Then, there is the matter of elevation. The elevation of Flagstaff, Ariz., is 7,000 feet. “And they let (opposing) teams know that, for sure” said Jones, referring to the words imprinted on the NAU court in front of the visitor’s bench.
The elevation of Cedar City is 5,840 feet. In all, the trip is a demanding one for a team coming from a city with an elevation of 839 feet.
Travel and elevation are common traits of the Big Sky, so UND doesn’t dwell too much on it. But the traits are noticeable at times.
“When we played at Weber State (Ogden, Utah) and Idaho State, we noticed the elevation at Weber,” said Jones of the team’s recent trip. “It really zapped us. But at Idaho State, we were fine because we had a game under out belt.”
UND junior guard Quinton Hooker has the most experience of playing at the two high-elevation venues.
“You just have to gear yourself up to get your second wind earlier in the game,” said Hooker, the second-leading scorer in the Big Sky (19.0 ppg)
UND is 3-3 in the Big Sky and 8-9 overall. NAU is 1-4 and 3-13 but two of its league losses came in overtime against Montana and Montana State. Southern Utah is 1-4 and 8-8. And UND has won at both venues.
UND played well overall at home last week, splitting with Montana State and Montana. UND’s confidence, however, remains intact after the Hawks let a late six-point lead slip away against Montana.
In that loss, however, UND did receive strong play from true freshman frontliner Conner Avants, who is averaging 5.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.
“Coach says to embrace my role and that’s to do whatever the team needs,” said Avants. “And I’m fine with that. It really doesn’t matter.”
And the true freshman doesn’t mind the travel either, mentioning that the team had success during a 10-day European exhibition tour in August.

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