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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 20 2009

NDSU's past embraces current team's NCAA bid

MINNEAPOLIS – Lance Berwald and Les Jepsen are two men with North Dakota ties who stand between 6-feet-11 and 7-feet tall. They both had a front row seat Thursday during North Dakota State’s 40-minute practice at the Metrodome.

Everything is big about the Bison these days.

A big basketball tournament in the NCAA. Big dreams with a first-year-eligible Division I team. And a big crowd expected for today’s first-round game against Kansas. All stuff worthy of a standing ovation, especially from one of its former great players and Hall of Fame member in Berwald.

He still holds the school career and single-game field-goal percentage records. But he saw his single-game record of 53 points fall this year when guard Ben Woodside put up 60 against Stephen F. Austin (Texas).

“It’s just awesome to see them here,” Berwald said. “Being able to come out and support what these guys have accomplished this year – it’s great being a Bison or former Bison right now.”

Today’s Bison-Jayhawks matchup also carries a game within the game for Berwald. His daughter, Lindsey Berwald, is a Kansas graduate and a “huge KU fan,” he said.

“We have the family rivalry going on right now,” he said. “Obviously, my allegiance is with the Bison, and I think we have a great shot at this game. I told her that. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. If they come out and play like they can play, it should be a real good game.”

The tournament game is something Jepsen only saw on TV while growing up in Bowbells, N.D.

“Now you see NDSU on TV and the kids think to themselves, ‘Why not me?’” Jepsen said. “That’s the whole gist of watching it on TV; why not me.”

Jepsen went on to play in the NCAA tournament at the University of Iowa, once reaching the Elite Eight, and had a stint with the Fargo-Moorhead Fever of the old CBA. He was at the Metrodome on Thursday to check out his home-state team.

“They’ll find out it’s one of the greatest sporting events every year,” he said.

On Thursday, they got a good clue. There were more fans watching the Bison practice than there were at some regular-season games in The Summit League.

“A little while ago as we walked onto the Metrodome floor and saw our guys as cool as they try to be, there was a little wide-eye in there, and hopefully that wears off before tomorrow,” Bison head coach Saul Phillips said.

Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia