Beavers riding five-game winning streak into two road matchups

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics  Minot State forward Kristal Flowers (40) shoots a mid-range shot during a women's college basketball game earlier this season. 

One five-game winning streak later, the Minot State women’s basketball team is inching closer toward its preseason goal.

Entering tonight’s matchup against Southwest Minnesota State, the Beavers (11-9, 8-8 NSIC) sit one half-game behind Minnesota Duluth (11-8, 8-7) for fourth place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division.

Finishing fourth or higher in the division would give the Beavers a home game in the first round of the NSIC Tournament beginning on Feb. 21.

“So many people have told me our on-court chemistry has drastically improved from the start of the year,” MSU assistant coach Karen Senette said. “I think winning solves a lot of issues, anyone who has played a sport knows that. A lot of girls have settled into their roles and the chemistry is starting to snowball from that. I just think when you watch us play, it looks like we’re finally having fun. Because that’s what it’s all about.”

MSU plays its next four on the road, beginning with a matchup against the Mustangs (4-15, 3-13) in Marshall, Minn. SMSU has two players averaging double figures, including forwards Caleigh Rodning (12.9 ppg) and Erin Baxter (11.1 ppg). The Mustangs are second-worst in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 72.4 points per game. This bodes well for MSU, which is 9-1 this season when scoring at least 70 points.

After the bout with SMSU, the Beavers take on the University of Sioux Falls (13-7, 10-6). The Cougars are the third-best team in the NSIC in scoring defense, allowing 60.4 points per game. Offensively, USF scores 66 points per night, the ninth-best mark in the conference.

Sophomore guard Kaely Hummel the Cougars in scoring and is fourth in the conference with 16.6 points per game. Meanwhile, guards Jasmine Harris and Mariah Szymanski are scoring 13.0 and 11.3 points per game, respectively.

MSU men hope to rebound after two-game losing streak

For the first time all season, the Minot State men’s basketball team was swept in an NSIC weekend series.

At home, no less.

Having lost three of its last four games, MSU will likely need to come close to running the table in the last six games to have a chance at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament without making a run in the NSIC Tournament.

But talk of what potentially lies beyond the regular season seems silly with two daunting road contests looming.

The Beavers (17-5, 11-5 NSIC) clash with SMSU (15-7, 11-5) at 8 p.m. tonight in a matchup that could have a large say on the first Central Region rankings that will be released in two weeks. MSU then faces USF (14-8, 9-7) at 6 p.m. Saturday.

“As you get toward the end, it’s probably time to start looking at the standings and saying ‘OK, this is who we might play in the playoffs or this is who we’re around in the standings,” MSU coach Matt Murken said. “Obviously, the main thing is to keep worrying about us and keep worrying about getting better. From here on out, you can’t feel like you have a great win one night and then go out and lay an egg the next night. It’s about stringing wins together, which will be tough, because Southwest and Sioux Falls are very good basketball teams and we have to play them on the road.”

The Mustangs are coming off what could be considered a confusing weekend, losing to NSIC North bottom feeder MSU Moorhead but taking down the top dog in the NSIC, Northern State. SMSU is sixth in both scoring offense (70 ppg) and scoring defense (73.5). The Beavers are third in the league in scoring defense (70.5 ppg), but are coming off a season-worst 99 points allowed to Upper Iowa Saturday. Junior guard Ryan Bruggeman paces SMSU with 16.9 points per game, while forward Carter Kirk averages 14.5 per night.

This matchup features the second and third-best teams in shooting efficiency, with MSU making nearly 50 percent of its field goals and SMSU shooting at a 48.5 clip.

“We’re going out there trying to get back on a winning track,” Murken said. “Last weekend, I thought we played about one good half in two days. That’s not going to get it done against anybody. We have to play better than that. At some point and time, you’re going to face adversity. Having a two-game losing streak, I think we’re going to find out what we’re made of.”

In Saturday’s matchup, MSU has to deal with reigning NSIC South Player of the week Trevon Evans. Evans, a guard, averaged 35.5 points in two games last weekend and has a season average of 21.5 points per game.

Forward Drew Guebert provides a solid one-two punch with Evans and is fifth in the league with 19.5 points per game. MSU fans may remember the 6-foot-8 inside-out threat Guebert as the one who ended their season in the NSIC Tournament last year after hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining.

USF is fourth in the conference in scoring (79.8 ppg) and ninth in scoring defense (74.5).

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