MSU women extend winning streak to five after second straight blowout win

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State's Mariah Payne (4) puts up a shot during a women's college basketball game Saturday at the MSU Dome in Minot.

When Minot State women’s basketball coach Mark Graupe was hired, he went out of his way to make sure his team knew it didn’t matter if it started off slow.

“We’re going to play for January,” the first-year coach said in November.

After enduring separate five and three-game losing streaks earlier in the year, the Beavers are finally playing their best basketball of the season; In January, as if Graupe was just predicting the future in the preseason.

MSU took down Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference bottom feeder Upper Iowa 85-57 Saturday at the MSU Dome, extending its winning streak to five games and reaching .500 in conference play for the first time since December. With Minnesota Duluth falling to Wayne State Saturday, the Beavers (11-9, 8-8 NSIC) are a half game behind the Bulldogs for fourth place in the NSIC North Division.

“Having the win streak is really exciting for us coming off a season like last year,” MSU junior guard Maddie Wald said. “How much we’ve improved this year is really rewarding and awesome. I think this confidence is going to continue to help us do well.”

The final score wasn’t an indication of the first quarter, as Upper Iowa (2-20, 0-16) caught MSU sleepwalking and led 23-12 at the 9:30 mark in the second quarter.

MSU turned the tide by implementing a full-court press, forcing three turnovers en route to a 13-0 run and a 25-23 lead.

The Beavers outscored the Peacocks 29-8 in the second quarter, extending the lead to 41-29 at halftime.

After holding Winona State to three points in the third quarter on Friday, the Beavers limited the Peacocks to 11 Saturday. Most of Upper Iowa’s points in the third quarter came via the charity stripe, as the Peacocks were 1-of-16 from the floor.

MSU outscored Upper Iowa 73-36 after the first quarter.

“Both on and off the court, our team chemistry has just been phenomenal,” sophomore guard Mariah Payne said. “We’ve had some great shooters and our ball movement has definitely improved since the beginning of the season.”

Five Minot State players were in double figures, including Kari Clements (14), Payne (14), Holly Johnson (13), Wald (11) and Diondra Denton (10). The Beavers shot 44.8 percent from the floor, 14-of-22 from 3-point range and outrebounded the Peacocks 47-27.

Angelica De Paulo had 12 points for Upper Iowa, which shot 34 percent from the floor and 9 of 25 from long range.

MSU is back in action at 6 p.m. Friday against Southwest Minnesota State in a road contest.

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.