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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 04 2009

Women's basketball: Summit League should have plenty of parity

North Dakota State senior Inger Hodgson was asked what she thought of IUPUI – the Bison’s women’s basketball opponent on Saturday – and specifically the Jaguars’ 1-6 record.

“I didn’t even know that,” she said of the mark. “Last year, teams maybe looked past us because we had such low numbers. I’m not going to look past any team.”

That’s the state of The Summit League heading into the opening weekend: Nobody appears safe, not even South Dakota State.

“I don’t see one or two teams running away with it,” said Jackrabbits head coach Aaron Johnston. “There could be five teams in the hunt by the end of January. That’s different from the last two years.”

The Jacks have dominated the league the two years they’ve been in it with a combined record of 33-3. Wins by league teams haven’t been in full throttle so far – only Oral Roberts has a winning record.

NDSU begins its league season at one of the toughest places to play. The Jungle in on the Indianapolis, Ind., campus is also the smallest in the conference and players say the lighting is different.

“We’ve never won there and I have that in the back of my mind,” Hodgson said. “We need to start off with a win.”

NDSU will be without leading scorer Janae Burich for the Jaguars and Western Illinois on Monday. She’ll be out about another week with a spleen injury, said head coach Carolyn DeHoff.

At 3-3, the Bison are looking decent for an upper division finish. Wins came at Northern Iowa and at home against Ball State and Denver. The only major problem was a rout at the University of Minnesota when the Bison treated the basketball like a foreign object.

“That was the clunker,” DeHoff said. “We got a really valuable lesson.”

They weren’t alone in the league – the combined conference record is 18-44 with IUPUI and Southern Utah picking up their first wins of the season this week. Centenary is still winless and carries some of the worst team statistics in the country, such as last in scoring.

The preseason smash hit was turned in by Oral Roberts freshman guard Kevi Luper, who broke conference single-game marks with 44 points and 19 field goals in a win over La Salle. She’s leading the country in scoring, averaging 30.3 points.

“Jiminy Christmas that’s a lot of points,” said Johnston. “Maybe she’ll forgo her last three years and we won’t have to worry about her.”

The Jackrabbits are somewhat of an early season surprise for a different reason: They’re 2-4. The team that has dominated the league the first two years it’s been in it has struggled with consistency, Johnston said.

“The team has been a touch complacent this year,” Johnston said. “They’re working hard and doing everything we ask. We’re OK, it’s early and it’s only December.”

Still, both NDSU and SDSU would like to leave Indiana and Illinois with two wins.

“This is when it counts the most,” Hodgson said. “This is when everything we worked for gets put into action.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546