Two weeks ago, the University of North Dakota women’s basketball team let Denver off the hook in a home game in Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks rallied from an 18-point third-quarter deficit only to see Denver tie the game with buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The Pioneers then controlled overtime and left town with a one-point win.
On Sunday, UND staged another rally against the Pioneers. This time, however, there was no overtime. This time, UND left no doubt. This time, UND perhaps won its biggest game of the season.
UND took a stunning 80-67 win over Denver in the quarterfinals of the Summit League tournament before 2,971 fans at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, a win that advances the Hawks to Monday’s semifinal against South Dakota.
UND trailed by 16 points in the second quarter and was down 55-43 with 4:40 left in the third quarter before turning the tables. A suffocating UND defense led the comeback, which also was aided by a 13-point, 13-rebound performance by Central Cass High School graduate Faith Dooley – her career best performance.
The Hawks outscored Denver 22-6 in the fourth quarter as the Pioneers managed only two points in the final seven minutes.
“North Dakota was the aggressor; they really whipped us in the second half,” said Denver coach Jim Turgeon. “Their style of play was better than our style of play.”
And that style of play, especially in the second half, centered on an aggressive defense – especially on the perimeter. The Hawks held Denver to only two 3-pointers in the final two quarters. Denver came into the game ranked No. 3 in Division I three-point shooting (39.4 percent) but ended 7 of 22 against UND.
The Hawks also forced 18 Denver turnovers that led to 21 points.
Denver led 41-28 at the half and appeared to be on course with a semifinal showdown with South Dakota. UND committed 15 first-half turnovers that led to 16 Pioneer points. But it didn’t take Turgeon long to know the Hawks were poised for a comeback.
“I could sense it on our very first possession of the second half … our body language versus their body language,” said Turgeon.
UND coach Travis Brewster said there wasn’t any major speeches in the UND locker room at halftime.
“We needed to take care of the basketball better,” said Brewster. “And we had to put the ball in certain spots and get it into certain hands at the right time. And we did that. We trusted each other more and that allowed us to have greater success. But I’d be remiss in not mention the type of defense we played.”
UND’s comeback featured balanced scoring. Julia Fleecs and Jill Morton led the Hawks with 15 points each. Lexi Klabo and Dooley each finished with 13 while Melissa Dailey ended with 10.
But the game’s biggest basket may have come from freshman Claire Orth, who drained a 3-pointer with 5:04 to go, giving UND a 69-67 lead.
“She’s a freshman but she’s not playing like a freshman,” said Brewster.
The win improved UND to 12-18 while Denver ended at 17-13.
“All the things we worked on all year is paying off now,” said Dooley.
Klabo, the Summit’s leading scorer from Fargo Davies High School, said the win had added meaning, considering UND is making its debut in the tournament.
“It’s really special,” said Klabo. “It’s so much fun to play in this environment and the vibe of it all is super cool. So, to get a win and keep playing in March is awesome.”
UND 13 28 58 80
DU 23 41 61 67
UND; Klabo 5-15 3-4 13, Dooley 6-8 1-2 13, Dailey 3-8 2-2 10, Morton 4-7 4-4 15, Strand 1-3 2-2 5, J. Jarnot 0-0 0-0 0, Leet 0-2 0-0 0, Orth 3-6 0-0 7, A. Jarnot 0-4 0-0 0, Reinke 0-4 2-2 2, Fleecs 5-7 3-4 15. Totals 27-64 (FT), 17-20 (FT).
DU: Nelson 5-15 1- 111, Mech 0-3 0-0 0, Loven 2-7 2- 8, Gritt 4-9 1-4 11, Romanowski 2-6 3-3 8, White 0-7 2-2, 2, Simental 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 3-8 2-2 10, Malonga 1-4 2- 4, Jeffcoat 5-8 3-3 13. Toals 22-67 (FG), 16-19 (FT).
3-pointers: UND 9-21 (Klabo 0-2, Dailey 2-5, Morton 3-3, Strand 1-3, Leet 0-1, Orth 1-1, A. Jarnot 0-2, Fleecs 2-4), Denver 7-22 (Nelson 0-2, Mech 0-1, Loven 2-6, Gritt 2-4, Romanowski 1-2, White 0-4, Smith 2-3).
Rebounds: UND 51 (Klabo 10, Dooley 10), Denver 34 (Nelson 6, White 6). Assists: UND 15 (A. Jarnot 4), Denver 13 (Romanowski 5).