The North Dakota State University women’s basketball team returned to the Scheels Center for an action-packed weekend as they faced off against the University of Denver Pioneers and the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks.
Abby Graham shines off of the bench as NDSU beats Denver 71-43
The contest started out rough for both teams, as turnovers were abundant. After the first couple of minutes, the Bison picked up the pace. A main beneficiary of this tempo was freshman guard Abby Graham. Graham burst off of the bench and torched Pioneer defenders, scoring a fancy layup. On the ensuing Denver possession, Graham swatted away a shot, leading to a Bison fastbreak score. This sequence was just the start of a career night for the freshman out of Portland, Ore. Graham’s efforts energized the home crowd, and the Bison rode that energy, going on a 16-1 run that lasted 5 minutes, forcing a Denver timeout. Following the timeout, the Herd’s shooting started to turn cold. Nevertheless, Abby Graham returned to the court and poured in two three-pointers in back-to-back possessions to quench the Bison drought and give herself 20 first-half points, and a 44-25 lead going into halftime.
The Herd looked to keep their foot on the gas in the second half, but Denver came out of the break on a 7-2 run that forced an NDSU timeout with 7:35 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Abby Graham subbed back into the game and made an immediate impact on both ends of the floor as she drove in for a layup and drew an offensive foul. Denver’s shots were not falling, as they went on a 0-4 cold streak, while the Herd shot a perfect 4-4 in the third quarter stint. However, NDSU soon slumped on a 4-minute scoring drought of their own, which lasted until the end of the third. The Bison then held the Pioneers scoreless in the first 5 minutes of the fourth in a 9-0 run that was highlighted by two three-pointers from senior guard Heaven Hamling. The Herd maintained their lead to win the game 71- 43.
Abby Graham led the Bison with 22 points on 8/9 shooting. Junior forward Emily Behnke also made a huge impact for the Herd, netting 12 rebounds and denying multiple Pioneer possessions. NDSU’s bench shined bright, outscoring Denver’s bench 41-20, meaning Graham single-handedly outscored the Pioneers’ bench. Alongside Abby Graham, head coach Jory Collins touted the efforts of sophomore forward Abbie Draper and junior forward Georgia Baldwin. When asked about the impact of players new to the program, Collins said, “everyone is recruited for a reason… and when the people who you would expect to score don’t, they have to step up and I think they (Graham and Draper) did that for us today.” Additionally, Collins mentioned that the Herd’s deep bench has had a great benefit on the team’s success, and the development of these players will benefit the team through the ups and downs of the rest of conference play.
Bison top Nebraska-Omaha 83-71
Following their victory versus Denver, the NDSU welcomed the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks into the Scheels Center on Saturday.
NDSU started the game off strong, as graduate student forward Taylor Brown drained a three-pointer after two consecutive offensive rebounds. Omaha opened the game with a zone defense, which dared the Bison to take three-point shots. This hindered the Herd’s offense early on, as it forced costly mistakes and punished poor shooting. Turnovers and sloppy play allowed the Mavericks to gain momentum and take an 8-7 lead, forcing a Bison timeout. NDSU then began to run more set plays as a way to get specific shooters open to much success, as freshman guard Elle Evans hit two three-pointers to end a scoring drought for the Herd. While NDSU was focusing on outside shooting, UNO was dominating the painted area. The Bison tried to switch to a zone of their own, but it was no help against the Mavericks’ dominant offensive onslaught. A mid-quarter NDSU scoring drought led to a 7-0 UNO run that was ultimately snapped by an Abby Graham three-pointer with 4:47 left to play in the half. Omaha center Elena Pilakouta was a nuisance for the Herd, as the 6’3” senior from Cyprus scored 18 first-half points. The Bison struggled to find their footing against Pilakouta and the UNO offense, but they maintained their lead to head into halftime up 37-33.
Coming out of the half, both teams traded baskets, but it was NDSU’s three-point shooting that allowed them to maintain their lead. The Bison then suddenly started to move the ball inside and attack the rim, as Omaha attempted to deny the Herds three-point opportunities. Although long timeouts and fouls derailed the pace of the game, NDSU ended the third on a 5-0 run to carry a 55-48 lead into the fourth. Scrappy play on both sides boiled over in a physical sequence that energized the Herd and the home crowd for the duration of the fourth. NDSU utilized the energy to pick off passes on the next two ensuing possessions, leading to two Hamling buckets. The Herd continued to attack the paint, a total scheme change from the first half, to grab a 12-point advantage with 2 minutes remaining in the game. The Bison kept the pressure on, securing an 83-71 victory.
Senior guard Heaven Hamling paced the Bison with 26 points, six rebounds and six assists[CS10] . Freshman guard Elle Evans benefited off of Omaha’s zone as she scored 20 points and also snagged six rebounds. Omaha’s center Elena Pilakouta was absolutely dominant, as she finished the game with 28 points on perfect 100-percent shooting. Omaha’s offense flowed through Pilakouta, and she played 36 minutes and her impact was sustained throughout. Although she was a thorn in the Herd’s side, poor shooting from the rest of the Mavericks allowed NDSU to escape with the win.
The game marked the eighth home win for NDSU and moved the Bison to 12-5 on the season and 6-1 in Summit League play. The Bison now embark on a three-game road trip, with their first game coming on January 19th against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (6-12, 3-4 Summit) in Tulsa, Okla. The Herd will look to contain senior guard Hannah Cooper, who is averaging 20.2 points per game for ORU. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CST. The game will be available to listen to on Bison 1660 radio.