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Weber State-UND game could be the best of the season at The Betty

GRAND FORKS - Since the University of North Dakota joined the Big Sky Conference in 2012, the schedule-makers haven't been necessarily kind to the Fighting Hawks.

GRAND FORKS - Since the University of North Dakota joined the Big Sky Conference in 2012, the schedule-makers haven't been necessarily kind to the Fighting Hawks.

Each season, it seems, UND plays traditional Big Sky powers Montana and Weber State on back-to-back weekends.

And that's happened again this season. Weber State will play UND at the Betty Engelstad Arena Thursday night in what could be the marquee home game of the season for the Fighting Hawks.

Weber is 3-0 in the league and 9-6 overall. The Wildcats also have won seven in a row. UND is 4-2 in the league and 9-7 overall. UND is coming off a weekend split, winning at Montana State before losing last Saturday at Montana.

"We've been blessed, having Montana and Weber on back-to-back weeks," quipped UND coach Brian Jones. "But we have to have focus and understand how hard it is to compete against either one of those teams.

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"This will be a huge game. They don't have any losses and we have two. You lose and you're three back. This is a big situation for us."

UND, however, is closing the gap against Weber and Montana. The Hawks lost in overtime to Weber last season in the Big Sky postseason tournament. Also, the Hawks pushed Montana to the limit last week on the road.

"We had our best effort in that building (Dahlberg Arena) last week," said Jones of UND's 76-70 loss. "It was a one possession game with a minute to go."

All time, Weber is 9-1 against UND. The Hawks' lone win against the Wildcats came at home last season.

In the Big Sky tournament, Weber guard Jeremy Senglin hit a deep, step-back 3-pointer to force overtime-the shot that led to the Wildcats' win. Senglin then led Weber past Montana in the Big Sky title game, securing a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Senglin averages 23 points per game.

"He hits a step-back 3 to force overtime against us and he hit a step-back 3 to win it at Montana this season," said Jones. "He has that in him. He's a shot-maker at crunch time."

Jone said UND, Weber and Montana have the deepest guard corps in the league. The Big Sky has become more and more guard oriented during the past few seasons.

"That's why I'm hopeful we'll have a chance at the end of the season because of our quality and depth in our guard corps," said Jones.

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And the UND players still remember the sting of last season's playoff loss in Reno, Nev., against Weber.

"That's still in the back of our heads," said UND senior guard Corey Baldwin. "We know what it takes to win. We're not going to forget that. We're going to come out and play with a lot of energy."

Tonight's game could be one of the more fast-paced, intense games at The Betty in recent seasons. It features two of the best players in the league in Senglin and UND's Quinton Hooker-the Big Sky preseason player of the year.

Weber also averages 83.0 points in conference play, tops in the league. UND is fourth at 79.2 points.

There is a stigma for UND in playing Weber. Since joining the Big Sky in 2012, the Hawks are 6-3 in postseason play-with all three losses coming against Weber.

"We know we can compete with anybody in the league," said Baldwin. "It comes down to execution down the stretch. We have to play hard, execute and don't turn the ball over."

Related Topics: UND BASKETBALL
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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