Gophers at home get chance for bison to prove themselves – InForum

FARGO – Taylor Brown heard about the University of Minnesota women’s program, but that’s about it. Abby Schulte attended a few Gophers summer camps, but there were no recruitment talks.

The two North Dakota State players will get a chance Thursday to show they can also play the game at a Power Five level when NDSU takes on Minnesota, they are the home state school. Brown is from Lakeville and Schulte is from Maple Grove.

“For me it’s something like a home club,” said Schulte. “I’m just looking forward to going out there and showing our fans and the people who come, who we are, what we’re capable of and competing with them.”

Not only that, both players 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 Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.

The Bison last had the Gophers at home in 2006.

When both players and Heaven Hamling of Grand Rapids, Minn. have an ax to sharpen because they weren’t recruited by their home state university, they don’t say it or show it. Brown said she is happy where she is. Hamling, who started her career with Stephen F. Austin (Texas), got a few 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,” said Schulte. “Where there is somewhere where I can excel, show what I have to show and do that with my teammates.”

It’s not uncommon in women’s basketball to play in a mid-major compared to the men’s game. South Dakota State plays No. 1-ranked and reigning national champions South Carolina next month at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls. The Jackrabbits have hosted No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Louisville at Frost Arena in the past. In 2020, the Jackrabbits hosted the nationally ranked Gonzaga and Iowa State.

It’s less of a risk for a Power Five to go up against players like SDSU or South Dakota, as the latter two programs are likely to win many games and won’t hurt a potential postseason seeding. Also, women’s programs seem to be more open to promoting their sport more than men’s programs.

“I think so,” said Bison head coach Jory Collins. “I think everyone wishes there were more people in the stands for women’s games and it has been talked about and highlighted just as much as men’s games. I think one way to do that is to go out and 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 fare this year?

“We just asked,” Collins said, referring to Gophers head coach Lindsay Whalen. “She knows how many Minnesota kids we have or will have, it’s close and it’s regional. She obviously has a great appreciation for women’s basketball in general and what it can do for our fan base. Obviously very grateful to her for doing that.”

Brown is actually the exception to the rule at NDSU. The American University in Washington DC graduate played twice with her former school in Minnesota. 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 American’s Gopher matchup took place last season.

“Kind of ironic that it’s the exact same schedule,” Brown said, “but I think we’re all super excited and up for the challenge.”

Minnesota is a very different team from last year, which lost players to the transfer portal, and redshirt freshman Katie Borowicz of Roseau, Minnesota, was absent last season with an injury.

“They have a lot of new faces, so it’s a little bit different,” Brown said. “I know it’s a really tough team to compete against.”

In all, the Gophers have eight players from the Twin Cities areas.

Whether encountering home state players was a factor in that 2006 game is debatable. Austin, Minnesota’s Lisa Bue had 11 points in the last seven minutes for a total of 21 points, and the Bison held the Gophers to just eight points in the last 11 minutes, winning 62-48.

NDSU U by Minn wbb
Members of the North Dakota State women’s basketball team react to the lead in the final seconds of the 62-48 win over the University of Minnesota in 2006.

Dave Wallis/Forum Communications Co.

It was played in front of 3,543 fans at the old Bison Sports Arena, with the NDSU players celebrating on the last horn.

“That was the national championship game for them,” Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said after the game.

In a way, it was. Not eligible for postseason competition because of Division I reclassification, NDSU played an independent schedule.

It’s all about the non-conference 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.”