Hawks embark on longest Big Sky road trip of the season

GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota men’s basketball team practiced Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 27, then hit the road for two more Big Sky Conference games. But this road trip will be different from the others this season.
It could last nearly two weeks — and that’s a good thing if does.
After games tonight at California State University Sacramento and Saturday, March 3, at Portland State University, UND will head directly for Reno, Nev., for next week’s Big Sky tournament.
“It’s going to be a long trip; it’s something we’re concerned about for the new guys and the guys who haven’t gone through it,” said UND’s Geno Crandall, who leads the team in scoring (16.4 points per game). “But it’s something the older guys have been through. It does take a toll on your body, but we’ll try to stay fresh for the end of the trip, which is the most important part.”
UND (5-11 Big Sky, 10-18 overall) has yet to play Sacramento State and Portland State, making the trip somewhat different.
Two seasons ago, UND finished the regular season in a similar fashion with games at Univeristy of Montana, Missoula, Mont., and Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont., before heading to Reno, where they lost in the semifinal round to Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.
“We have to do a good job of managing our players, both mentally and physically,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “We have to find the best way to keep our guys fresh. It’s more time in the film room now, and not as much time on their legs.”
Every road trip in the Big Sky is challenging, with UND being the easternmost program in the three time zone, nine-state league.
But the length of this trip sets it apart from the others.
Depending on the outcome of this week’s games, UND will be seeded anywhere from No. 8 to No. 11 in Reno.
But the Reno Events Center has been good to the Fighting Hawks, who advanced to the semifinal round two years ago, losing in overtime, before winning the tournament last season and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a fun place to play,” said Crandall. “The stakes are high. The adrenaline gets you going, and you get into a zone. The first game is always the toughest. If we can get a first win out there, we can use that to hopefully propel us to another conference title.”
Montana leads the Big Sky heading into the final weekend of play with a 14-2 record. Idaho and Weber State are tied for second at 12-4.