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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 10 2009

Women's basketball: NDSU enjoying time at top of Summit

The benefits of conference affiliation for North Dakota State were never more popular for the Bison players this week.

They may be 5-7 overall but they’re also tied for first place in The Summit League.

“There’s a certain energy and a certain pumped-up feeling in the conference,” said center Jerri Penley. “That’s what it’s all about.”

What it’s all about this weekend is a 2 p.m. game today against Western Illinois and a 7 p.m. home date with IUPUI on Monday. Both are at the Bison Sports Arena, where the Bison swept Centenary and Oral Roberts in their last conference home games.

NDSU has had its share of rollercoaster rides the last month, but a win at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne last week has it tied with Oakland University (Mich.) and South Dakota State atop the standings. It’s still relatively early in the conference, but the Bison will hang their hat on anything they can get.

“I’m surprised and I’m also not surprised – we’re excited to be tied for first,” said guard Katie Birkel. “It makes us more aggressive and it makes us want to win more.”

NDSU struggled on offense, scoring between 40 and 51 points in four straight losses before the IPFW win. Not exactly feel-good stuff.

But a check of the league statistics for conference games only surprised the players. NDSU is in the top three in 10 team categories, including tops in field goal percentage (45 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (41 percent) and field goal percentage defense (opponents shooting 32 percent).

It is second in scoring margin (plus-14) and scoring defense (54.2 points).

“They were like, ‘No way, get out of here, look at this,’ ” said Bison head coach Carolyn DeHoff of her players. “It explains a little more of where we’re at.”

And where the Bison are at in the conference is much more enjoyable than where they are at in overall record.

“We had a bad hand handed to us last month,” Penley said. “But we overcame it and kept pushing forward.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com