Two new NSIC travel partners will face each other Saturday afternoon in an NSIC doubleheader when Minnesota-Duluth comes south to face St. Cloud State at Halenbeck Hall.
The women’s game tips off at 2 p.m. and the men at 4.
The women’s game should be a good one. The Huskies come in with a 4-0 record while the Bulldogs are 3-1. UMD’s only loss was a 71-63 setback to St. Mary’s (Texas) in San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 11.
The Bulldogs were picked to win the NSIC North Division in the preseason coaches poll while the Huskies were picked third.
SCSU head coach Lori Fish knows what kind of defensive team the Huskies are going up against.
“I think they’re the best defensive team in the league,” Fish said. “They apply so much pressure and they really force you into tough shots. We have to take care of the ball against them (Saturday). Katrina Newman is a great player and the supporting cast around her just really fits. They’ll cause teams a lot of problems.
“We haven’t shot the ball well and we better be ready for a great defensive team (Saturday). We need to get off to better starts as well. Those are two big things. Defense always tightens up in league play. Our defense has to get better, too.”
The Bulldogs are led by 5-11 junior forward Newman, who averaged 17.5 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Newman is one of the most complete players in the NSIC.
St. Cloud State’s Sam Price and Jessica Benson both come in averaging 15.8 points per game while true freshman Lexy Petermann is putting in 9.3 points a game.
But UMD head coach Annette Wiles admits her team’s best attributes come on the defensive end.
“We challenge our kids with defense,” Wiles said. “We get out and put some pressure on our opponents. There are so many talented offensive players in this league. We ask our players to go 100 percent all the time. We know we’re going to have to defend some good players at St. Cloud.
“They’re undefeated and we’re not. We have quite a challenge in front of us. St. Cloud is putting a lot of points on the board.”
Minnesota-Duluth head coach Matt Bowen will make his NSIC debut with the Bulldogs after a stint in Bemidji State. Bowen turned around the Beavers’ program, guiding them to an NSIC title and appearance in the regional tournament last March.
Bowen takes over for Gary Holquist, who is now the director of development at the school.
Bowen has a nice roster in place for this season with senior guard Jake Hottenstine, junior center Brett Ervin and former SCSU center Ben Bucholz. Hottenstine is averaging 14.3 points a game and Ervin is averaging 11 points a game.
The Bulldogs are off to a 2-2 start and Bowen knows that his team is a work in progress.
“We have the potential to be a nice team,” he said earlier this week. “Whether we get there or not, I don’t know. There’s not that big a difference from what Gary and I do with X’s and O’s. It’s always different with change. How the kids adapt will determine greatly how we go. Change is never easy. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Bucholz played for SCSU during the 2010-11 season. He transferred to UMD following that season to play football as a quarterback. Bucholz claimed that his knees had gotten so bad that he couldn’t play basketball anymore and he missed football.
Someone should’ve told Bucholz that football is even worse for your knees. He joined the basketball team for this season after one season on the UMD football team.
“Ben is trying to find his way,” Bowen said. “Football didn’t work out the way he wanted. He’s got some skill and size. We’re certainly grateful he switched back. I wouldn’t say his knees are better. He’s tolerating the pain. He’s a big kid and he’s grown into his body more. He understands what he can and can’t do.”
St. Cloud State head coach Kevin Schlagel knows it will be a tough NSIC opener.
“They return a lot of guys and Ervin is a good player up front,” Schlagel said. “He makes a good inside/outside combo with Hottenstine. They’re a well-balanced team.”
SCSU sophomore center James Fort is questionable for Saturday’s game after injuring a knee last weekend. Chris Larson will start in Fort’s place at center if he can’t go.
The Huskies are led by senior Theo Rothstein, who is averaging 20 points, and guard Damarius Cruz, who is averaging 12 points a game. Point guard Shaun Jensen is averaging 11.3 points a game and an eye-opening 7.3 assists per game.
UMD hasn’t beat SCSU since 2009. The Bulldogs have lost 14 of their past 15 games against the Huskies.
The Huskies are ranked No. 22 in this week’s NABC Division II poll.