UND played Texas A&M tough in first round of the NCAA basketball tournament


David L. Dodds

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UND played Texas A&M tough in first round of the NCAA basketball tournament

"Let's dance!"

If she didn't say those exact words, that's the look UND freshman point guard Leah Szabla had on her face as she looked toward her bench with 15 seconds to go in the Big Sky Championship game against the University of Montana on Saturday, March 15, at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

Szabla, a sparkplug on the court all game, held a steady dribble just past the half line, then raised both arms in the air with a gesture to the crowd to make some noise. The announced crowd of nearly 2,000 rose to its feet to wildly greet her enthusiasm. The other UND players on the court and on the bench couldn't wait for the clock to hit zero.

Montana could only watch the spectacle.

When final buzzer sounded, Szabla was mobbed by her teammates on the court, after a 72-55 defeat of the Lady Griz from Montana.

That's when the dancing really got going for UND.

UND vs. Texas A&M

But UND's last dance came to a bitter-sweet end Sunday night in the first-round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament in College Station, Texas. The hometown Texas A&M Aggies defeated UND 70-55 in front of and ESPN2 national TV audience and more than 6,000 people on the Aggies' home court.

UND, the No. 14 seed, wasn't expected to run with the Aggies, who were the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional and who still had players on a team that won a National Championship just a few years ago. But UND was tied with the Aggies with under a minute to go in the first half, and finished the opening frame only down by four point.

A strong start to the second half by Texas A&M, bolstered by a smothering defense and a blistering offensive push, sent the Aggies on a 16-2 run that UND could never recover from.

Aggies Hall-of-Fame Head Coach Gary Blair, whose teams have played many first-year tournament teams over the years, said, after the game, that UND was the best one they've ever played.

Madi 'Buck'ets

UND seniors Madi Buck, Katie Houdek and Alyssa Wall played their final college basketball game Sunday. Buck finished with a game-high 22 points, sending a message that the homegrown talent from Bismarck Century High School definitely belonged in the big show.

In just its second season in the Big Sky Conference, UND claimed the the Big Sky Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament – commonly referred to as "The Big Dance." Even Head Coach Travis Brewster, already with his dancing shoes on, got in on the act the night they won conference championship, taking UND First Lady Marcia Kelley by the hand for a little jig and a dipsy-do at center court.

North Dakota (22-10 overall), led by Big Sky Player of the Year Buck and Big Sky Tournament MVP sophomore Mia Loyd, has doubled its win total from a season ago.

UND made the transition to NCAA Division I in 2008-09 and is in its second season in the Big Sky. North Dakota had a long, storied history in the NCAA Division II tournament, including three national titles (1997, 1998, 1999).

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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