GRAND FORKS -- The Summit League men's basketball programs sitting along Interstate 29 have given a cold welcome back to the University of North Dakota, which is in the early stages of its second season in the conference.
The Fighting Hawks have yet to beat old Division II North Central Conference foes North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State or Nebraska Omaha since moving back into the regional-based league following six years in the Big Sky Conference and a handful of years in the Great West Conference.
UND and NDSU will meet in the first rivalry game of this season Sunday, Jan. 18, at 1 p.m. in Fargo. First-year Fighting Hawks coach Paul Sather said it's important to put an end to that trend but also not worth dwelling on the record.
UND and NDSU were originally scheduled to play Saturday afternoon, but a winter storm caused the schools to push the game back to Sunday, which sets up a doubleheader with the women's matchup. A separate ticket will be needed for each game.
"Absolutely," Sather said to whether it was important to turn around the I-29 fortunes, "but No. 1, it's about not getting caught up in it in a sense. It's about us and our preparation and getting ready, whether it's North Dakota State or Oral Roberts or Western Illinois or South Dakota State. We can't put more or less into it based on our opponent. We have to worry about us and getting better.
"It shows how good the Dakota schools have been in our league. They've been the measuring stick as far as winning championships in our league. That's where we need to get to, and we can't worry about (our past record). We have to compete and keep getting better and learning. That's all you can control. You can't control what your record might be from last year, but we can control what our mindset will be moving forward."
After starting conference play 2-0 with wins over Denver and Western Illinois, the Fighting Hawks have lost three straight -- to Nebraska Omaha, Oral Roberts and South Dakota State.
UND senior guard Marlon Stewart leads the Hawks in scoring with 17.1 points per game, while sophomore forward Filip Rebraca is averaging 13.1 points and 9.9 rebounds.
Sather wants to see his team play with greater intensity and pace, and he added a perceived lack of depth can't be an excuse.
"You get into league play and there's more of a magnifying glass when you're not as consistent," Sather said. "These have been tough road games, but we've given up a couple of big runs. It's doing a better job for 40 minutes. I just think over the course of 40 minutes we haven't played with pace. When we do, we have success."
The Bison, who hold an 8-4 advantage over UND in Division I matchups, have won seven of their last nine. Leading the way are seniors Vinnie Shahid and Tyson Ward. In that nine-game stretch, Shahid is averaging 19.3 points and shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc. Ward is averaging 17.9 points and shooting 61 percent overall.