NSIC Tournament begins: Minot State women not overlooking rematch with Winona State

Sean Arbaut/Minot State athletics Minot State's Maddie Wald (3) puts up a shot during a women's college basketball game earlier this season.

When Winona State first visited the MSU Dome on Jan. 26 this season, the Minot State women’s basketball team could do no wrong.

The Beavers outscored the Warriors 38-17 in the second half en route to a dominating 26-point win, 76-50.

That should at least be good for team morale heading into tonight’s matchup. But MSU coach Mark Graupe knows he won’t be facing the same Winona State team at 6 p.m. tonight in the first round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament at the MSU Dome. The Beavers (14-12, 11-11 NSIC) finished No. 5 in the NSIC North Division, while Winona (14-12, 10-11) is the No. 4 team from the NSIC South. Despite being a higher seed in a different division, Winona State has to travel to Minot for its first round game because the Beavers finished the regular season with a better conference record. That rule was just changed last offseason.

The Warriors will benefit from the addition of 6-foot-2 forward Rachel Novotny, who didn’t play in the last meeting against MSU. Novotny averages 7.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Winona built momentum heading into the postseason with an upset victory against nationally ranked Augustana University Friday and narrowly missed taking down the No. 2 team in the NSIC South in Wayne State on Saturday. If the Beavers take down the Warriors, they’ll play the winner of Northern State and Upper Iowa this weekend at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“I hope people don’t look at the last time we played them and think it will be easy, because it won’t,” Graupe said. “They just beat the No. 10 team in the nation last weekend and were very closing to beating Wayne State. It’s a whole different team we’re facing. We’ll have our hands full.”

Both teams are far better at home than on the road, with the Beavers sporting a mark of 10-5 at the MSU Dome (4-7 on the road) and the Warriors boasting a 8-5 record at their building (5-7 away).

MSU will have all eyes on WSU guard Allie Pickrain, who went absolutely bananas in the first half against the Beavers on Jan. 26. Pickrain scored 20 points in the first two quarters, but was held scoreless after the break.

Forward Hannah McGlone leads the Warriors in scoring with 14.3 points per game, while Pickrain is second with a 12.3 average. WSU is eighth in the NSIC in scoring offense (65.8 points per game) and ninth in scoring defense (63.1 points allowed).

Now that they’ve earned a home tournament game, the Beavers are publicly saying they’re not going to settle for just being happy to be here. But realistically, the season will probably be considered a great success regardless of today’s outcome. MSU was picked to finish last in the NSIC preseason coaches poll, and instead finished in the top half of the league.

“I don’t even know if our players would have told you that at the beginning of the season,” Graupe said. “Even two months ago, things looked dim, because we were last in the NSIC North going into Christmas break. I don’t know what happened, maybe those seven days away from me helped turned the corner.”

At his weekly press conference, Graupe had one request for his fanbase once the questions concluded. The North Dakota native pleaded with MSU fans to attend both his team’s game and the men’s game against Upper Iowa at 8 p.m. The MSU women finished 13th in the NSIC in attendance, as the Beavers drew an average of 393 fans per game.

“We’re asking one last time for the people to show up,” Graupe said. “People tell me, ‘We want a winner at Minot State.’ Well, we have 2 teams that are hosting, what more can we do? I would like to see not just Minot, but the surrounding communities come to the Dome one last time. It would mean the world to the players. The fans can help us reach our dream of making the next round in Sioux Falls.”

NOTES: Today marks the first time in school history that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will be hosting a first round NSIC Tournament game in the same season. … Minot State is 11-1 on the season when scoring 70 or more points, including 3-0 when surpassing the 80-point mark. … Senior Kristal Flowers has posted eight double-doubles this season and averages 10.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. … Holly Johnson leads the Beavers in scoring with 16.0 points per game while grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game. …

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