UND upsets Utah, 62-56
Courtesy: Mitch Wigness, UND Media Relations
"Just to be able to have the opportunity to play them is a big moment for our team," UND head coach Travis Brewster said. "The win doesn't define our program but it's a big win that we can hopefully build on. We let our defense create some of our transition opportunities and the hard work is paying off."
Utah came into the contest ranked 71 in the latest RPI ratings and had won nine of its first 10 games. But, North Dakota controlled the tempo and the host team only held a handful of two-point leads the entire night in the big road victory.
UND got out to a quick start, scoring on buckets from junior Madi Buck and senior Nicole Smart for a 4-0 advantage. Utah managed to tie the score on eight different occasions in the opening period and had one lead in a closely-contested first half.
After Iwalani Rodrigues scored for two of her game-high 23 points, sophomore Siri Burck answered with a jumper on the next possession and the teams went into the locker room at the break all knotted at 27-27.
The key stretch for North Dakota came midway through the second frame when UND held the Utes without a field goal for nearly five minutes and rattled off a 10-0 run in the process to take its largest lead to that point. The run was started on a running layup by Carly Rothfusz and gained momentum when Buck tripled from deep with the shot clock expiring. Buck would add a pair of free throw makes (part of a 9-for-10 night from the charity stripe) and Brianna Williams chipped-in a bucket to close the run, quieting the Hunstman Center crowd.
Rodrigues scored on back-to-back trips for Utah, however, Williams and Buck countered with baskets to regain a double-digit lead as UND never looked back. North Dakota iced the win from the line with Cy'erra Mills going 6-for-6 in the final 45 seconds.
Buck led the way for North Dakota with a stat line of 18 points, six rebounds, five blocks, two steals and an assist. Sophomore Emily Evers was 5-of-7 from the floor for 10 points to go along with five rebounds while Smart contributed five assist to just turnover in the win.
Utah (9-2) was led by the trio of Rodrigues, Michelle Plouffe (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Taryn Wicijowski (17 points). That group scored 51 of Utah's 56 total points with the rest of the Utah team going 2-of-14 from the floor.
UND will return to Big Sky Conference play Thursday when it hosts preseason favorite and defending league champion Idaho State. Tip is set for 7:00 p.m. from the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
Notes: UND's 10 turnovers were a season low ... North Dakota has now kept its opponent under 40 percent shooting in each of the last eight games ... UND has won four of its five games with tonight's starting lineup: Buck, Smart, Williams, Evers and Megan Lauck ... North Dakota has been tied at the half in each of its last three games and has not trailed in seven of its last eight contests at the break ... Mills came into the game shooting 17-of-32 (.531) career from the free throw line, but made all six tonight ... Her five rebounds Saturday were also a career best ... Buck's five blocks notched a new career mark in a single game ... Lauck had six points to push her over 500 for her career (505).