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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 31 2011

Plucker almost perfect in leading Bison women to second straight victory

FARGO - The North Dakota State women’s basketball players made one of their teammates smile on Monday night. It had to be a welcome site for Danielle DeGagne.

The sophomore forward returned to Fargo on Sunday after being at home in Brandon, Manitoba, where her mother Colleen DeGagne died last week of cancer. She was part of a first half dominating performance in a 74-54 victory over Southern Utah, which completed a weekend sweep and moved the Bison into the upper half of the Summit League at 6-5.

DeGagne will return to Brandon this week for the funeral. Meanwhile, basketball was the ideal therapy on Monday, especially how well the Bison played. DeGagne almost had the first double-double of her two-year career with 10 points and nine rebounds.

Forward Abby Plucker hit her first eight shots and finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds. It was her seventh double-double of the season and the fourth in the last eight games.

At one point, Plucker was 10 of 11, which would have tied a Bison Sports Arena single game record for field goal percentage. But she missed her last shot, a 3-pointer with just under three minutes left.

Center Janae Burich was strong all night underneath with 17 points. This no longer looks like the team that lost six of eight last month.

The Bison did little wrong in the first half in grabbing a big lead. Moreover, the Thunderbirds’ leading scorer, 6-2 forward Challis Pascucci, picked up her third foul with 3:09 left in the half. Katie Birkel followed with a free throw to make it an 18-point lead at 36-18.

DeGagne’s two free throws almost two minutes later made it a 20-point advantage. The Bison shot 50 percent, blocked five shots, had five steals and it was 40-24 at halftime.

Pascucci, who came in averaging 17.7 points, didn’t score until making two free throws with 12:23 remaining in the game. The Thunderbirds, after winning seven straight in December including wins over NDSU, South Dakota State, Oregon State and Weber State, have dropped five of seven.