There’s a little quirk in the NSIC basketball schedule this season that has games being played on a Tuesday this week.
Each travel partner is playing each other once during the week this season. That means that St. Cloud State gets to travel to take on Minnesota-Duluth for a doubleheader Tuesday at Romano Gymnasium. The women’s game starts at 6 and the men tip at 8.
The SCSU women’s team is coming off a disappointing 57-56 loss to new NSIC member Sioux Falls on the road last Saturday. The Huskies shot 31 percent from the field and only 16.7 percent from three-point range. Another offensive performance like that won’t win many road games for the Huskies (7-2, 11-2).
“Sioux Falls had a couple of big shots late to win it. We missed a basket and some free throws, but it didn’t come down to that,” SCSU head coach Lori Fish said. “We only shot 31 percent. Things at the end of the game get magnified more, but we just have to shoot better.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams are in a stretch of five games in eight days. That’s not easy on any team. Fish thinks it’s beneficial for her team because they’re excited to rebound from the loss to USF.
“We haven’t played in the middle of the week in a long time,” Fish said. “I think our team is ready to go out and play right away. We didn’t like the way things ended Saturday. We have to go out and make ourselves better (Tuesday). We don’t want to sit back all week and think about it.”
The Huskies beat the Bulldogs 80-60 back on Dec. 1 to open the NSIC season. Jessica Benson had 24 points, five steals and six rebounds in that game and Sam Price had 24 points on 5 of 9 three-point shooting. The Huskies forced UMD into 24 turnovers in that game.
“We have to slow down their inside play and we have to know where their shooters are,” Fish said. “It’s a good matchup for both teams. We have to be ready and we have to shoot the ball better. You can’t win when you shoot in the low 30s for percentage. That’s not going to get it done against good teams.”
After UMD, the Huskies are host to MSU-Mankato (7-2, 11-2) Friday and Concordia-St. Paul (6-3, 8-5) Saturday.
“These next three games are a huge challenge for us,” Fish said.
After an inexplicable loss to Minot State back on Jan. 5, St. Cloud State rebounded with two wins on the road last weekend at Southwest Minnesota State and the University of Sioux Falls.
Winning at SMSU has always proved difficult for SCSU, but clutch play from Theo Rothstein and Shaun Jensen down the stretch helped the Huskies pull it out over the Mustangs last Friday.
“It was a step in the right direction,” SCSU head coach Kevin Schlagel said Monday. “SMSU proved how good it was again and USF had won 20 of its past 21 games at home. Those were two good teams. We competed against Southwest. It was a rough, physical game. Our guys made plays when we needed them.”
SCSU junior guard Damarius Cruz went off for a career-high 25 points in the win at USF. That was a welcome sign for SCSU. Cruz is averaging 9.5 points per game this season and might be the team’s best 3-point shooter.
“Damarius had a great road trip,” Schlagel said. “Defensively he played two great games. He held Jordan Miller down Friday and the next night he helped keep USF in check. It was nice to see him go off offensively Saturday.”
The Huskies get a struggling UMD team Tuesday. The Bulldogs are 2-7 in the NSIC and 4-9 overall in their first year under Matt Bowen.
UMD is very talented offensively. Jake Hottenstine leads the team in scoring at 16 points a game. SCSU beat UMD 97-68 back on Dec. 1.
“Theyr’e as talented as any team in the NSIC,” Schlagel said. “We feel they have four legitimate guys who can go off for 20 points a game. If they’re hot on a given night, they make it tough on you.”
Winning back-to-back road games for the first time this NSIC season was a confidence-builder for SCSU.
“Our guys are human. They succumb to things like everybody else does. But it was nice for us to bounce back on Saturday this time around, especially after a difficult game at Southwest,” Schlagel said. “This is a difficult part of our schedule. We have five games in eight days and then four more on the road. This is not a pleasant stretch.”
Sophomore guard Kevin Levandoski (sprained ankle) and sophomore forward James Fort (knee) are questionable for Tuesday’s game. Fort injured his knee against Sioux Falls Saturday and Levandoski re-injured an ankle against SMSU Friday. Levandoski didn’t play against Sioux Falls.
SCSU will start junior center Tim Bergstraser for a third straight game at center Tuesday. Bergstraser is averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in working his way back from a torn ACL for the second time in his career.
“This is kind of like the preseason for him right now,” Schlagel said of Bergstraser. “He’s going to have some growing pains and nights where he’s off or frustrated. But just having him in the lineup and having that physical presence is big for us. He sets good screens and rebounds better than anybody we have. If he scores, that’s just a plus for us.”