The Minot State University women's basketball team has a golden opportunity this weekend to make up ground on surging Northern State, the winners of nine straight and leaders of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division.
Second-place MSU (12-4 overall, 8-4 NSIC) hosts Minnesota Crookston today and Bemidji State on Saturday, both of whom are tied at the bottom of the division with a 4-8 league record.
But the Beavers aren't putting much stock in records. They know they can beat any team in the NSIC on a good night, and - when they play the low-energy form of basketball that has hampered them in three losses - they can lose to anyone, too.
Minot State University sophomore Savana Kingsbury looks to pass around Minnesota Duluth’s Jessica Newman on Jan. 17 at the MSU Dome.
"I think it's just a mental focus thing," MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said. "Kids got it easy. All they've gotta do is show up and play. What a great opportunity to play the game you love and go have fun doing it, so it's really hard for a coaching staff to understand why it's not there."
While the Beavers have a couple of very winnable home games, Northern State (14-2, 10-2) travels to middle-of-the-pack Minnesota Duluth (9-7, 6-6) and St. Cloud State (10-6, 6-6).
Crookston and Bemidji both have potent inside-outside duos that will test MSU's defense.
Sophomore forward Katrina Moenkedick leads the Golden Eagles with 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and is joined by the conference's top 3-point shooter. Sophomore guard Alexa Thielman averages 15.3 points per game and leads the NSIC in 3-point percentage (51.2) and 3-pointers made (2.69 per game).
Green Gerding said 6-foot-2 junior Christina Boag will likely guard the 5-8 Thielman and attempt to bother her with length.
For Bemidji, 6-2 center Kate Warmack and 5-7 guard Morgan Lee average 16 points apiece and Warmack pulls down 10.2 rebounds per contest.
Balanced MSU - which has all five starters in double figures - is the statistically better team, but that doesn't guarantee victory.
"You have to show everyone in this conference respect," MSU junior guard Morgan Klose said. "We haven't really focused on Bemidji yet, but we know they beat us both times last year and that's kind of a sore subject, so we know we'll be ready for them."
Said Green Gerding: "I think we have our hands full both nights. Both teams have a good post and a good guard and decent supporting casts."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.