Getting Gophers at home chance for Bison to prove themselves
North Dakota State's players from Minnesota looking forward to competing against a Big Ten Conference women's team
FARGO — Taylor Brown heard from the University of Minnesota women’s program, but that was about the extent of it. Abby Schulte went to a couple Gophers summer camps, but there was no recruiting talk involved in them.
The two North Dakota State players on Thursday will get a chance to show they can play the game at a Power Five level, too, when NDSU takes on Minnesota, their home-state school. Brown is from Lakeville and Schulte from Maple Grove.
“For me, it’s my hometown team-type of thing,” Schulte said. “I’m just excited to go out there and show our fans and the people that come who we are, what we can do and compete with them.”
Not only that, both players will have a chance to do it at home. In a rarity with a Summit League team like NDSU, the Bison will host the Big Ten Conference Gophers at 7 p.m. Thursday at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
The Bison last had the Gophers at home in 2006.
If both players and Heaven Hamling from Grand Rapids, Minn., have an ax to grind for not being recruited by their home-state university, they aren’t saying it or showing it. Brown said she’s happy where she’s at. Hamling, who started her career at Stephen F. Austin (Texas), got a couple letters from Minnesota, but said at the time she wanted to play out of state.
“I think I just want to show that I really love it here,” Schulte said. “Where it’s somewhere I can excel, show what I have to show and do that with my teammates.”
It’s not unheard of in women’s basketball to play at a mid-major compared to the men’s game. South Dakota State is playing No. 1-ranked and defending national champion South Carolina at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls next month. The Jackrabbits have hosted No. 3-ranked Notre Dame and fourth-ranked Louisville at Frost Arena in the past. In 2020, the Jackrabbits hosted nationally ranked Gonzaga and Iowa State.
It’s less of a risk for a Power Five to play the likes of SDSU or South Dakota, since the latter two programs are likely to win a lot of games and won’t hurt any potential postseason seeding. Plus, women’s programs appear more open to promote their sport more than the men’s programs.
“I think so,” said Bison head coach Jory Collins. “I think everybody wishes there were more people in the stands for women’s games and it was talked about and highlighted as much as men’s games. I think one way to do that is to go out there, promote it and get around and play in front of as many different people as possible.”
NDSU also hosted Wisconsin in 2019, Colorado in 2016, Mississippi State in 2013 and Alabama in 2005. How did the Bison do it this year?
“We just asked,” said Collins, in reference to Gophers head coach Lindsay Whalen. “She knows how many Minnesota kids we have or are going to have, it’s close and it’s regional. She has a great appreciation, obviously, for women’s basketball in general and what it can do for our fan base. Obviously, very grateful for her for doing that.”
Brown is actually the exception to the rule at NDSU. The graduate transfer from American University in Washington D.C. played Minnesota twice with her prior school. The Eagles lost 73-56 in Minneapolis last season and were beaten 70-53 at home in 2019.
Thursday’s game will be exactly one year to the day of the Gopher matchup with American last season.
“It’s kind of ironic it’s the exact same timeline,” Brown said, “but I think we’re all super excited and up for the challenge.”
Minnesota is a much different team from last year, losing players to the transfer portal and redshirt freshman Katie Borowicz from Roseau, Minn., missing last season with an injury.
“They do have a lot of new faces so it’s a little different,” Brown said. “I know they’re a really tough team to go against.”
In all, the Gophers have eight players from the Twin Cities area.
Whether facing home state players was a factor in that 2006 game is debatable. Lisa Bue from Austin, Minn., scored 11 points in the final seven minutes, 21 points overall, and the Bison held the Gophers to just eight points in the last 11 minutes and won 62-48.
It was played before 3,543 fans at the old Bison Sports Arena, with the NDSU players celebrating at the final horn.
“This was the national championship game for them,” said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton after the game.
In a way it was. NDSU was ineligible for postseason competition because of the Division I reclassification and was playing an independent schedule.
It’s all about nonconference Thursday. And a Summit team hosting a Big Ten team.
“They have some young players who are going to be phenomenal in college basketball,” Collins said. “We’re just excited to get out there and compete with them.”