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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 01 2012

Bison hold off Minnesota-Crookston in women's exhibition basketball

FARGO – Senior Katie Birkel played with a knee brace and sophomore Jamie Van Kirk wore a wrap. It’s time to put the ACL injuries suffered by the North Dakota State starting guards to rest.

The Bison women’s basketball team opened their season Thursday night with an exhibition against Minnesota-Crookston and there were still more questions than answers. The Division II Golden Eagles, from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, played the Bison even in all phases only to see an off-balanced contested 3-pointer with two seconds left go off the mark.

Other than the outcome, a 68-65 Bison win, NDSU could take away the return of Birkel, who missed all of last season after getting hurt in practice. Predictably, it took some time to get in the flow.

“It took a few minutes,” she said.

It appears Birkel will have to carry this team, at least in the early going.

The Bison started two players who are in their first year of college basketball. Holly Johnson is a true freshman from Minot, N.D., and Ali Browning is a third-year player who spent the first two years primarily on the injured list. Johnson earned the nod at forward on the basis of her competitiveness in practice, said head coach Carolyn DeHoff.

“It all comes from her effort,” she said.

Moreover, one of the first players off the bench was 5-11 forward Marena Whittle from Victoria, Australia, who tied Birkel for game-high honors in rebounds with seven.

NDSU played without senior centers Janae Burich, who is out with a knee injury, and Catavia Jones, who is battling an ailing back.

Without the 6-foot-5 Burich, the Bison had trouble finding a presence underneath. They spent most of the first half trailing Crookston, which dropped an 86-43 exhibition game at South Dakota State on Sunday.

It took until 10 minutes were left before the Bison asserted a decent lead. That’s when Birkel and Van Kirk put their best feet forward.

Birkel nailed two 3-pointers followed by a Van Kirk jumper and it was 54-46 with 9:33 remaining. It was a welcome back of sorts to college basketball for the two, even if everything didn’t go as planned.

“I thought we were lethargic, honestly,” Birkel said. “We were trying to get into new things. We were figuring things out. It was a warm-up.”

Birkel finished with 16 points to lead NDSU. Dani DeGagne added 15 points and Hannah Linz 10.

UMC: Tyson 4-6 0-0 8, Wiese 7-17 1-1 15, Walker 6-10 0-4 13, Perkins 3-4 0-0 6, Martell 0-4 0-0 0, Christenson 0-2 0-0 0, Thielman 4-12 0-0 10, Moenkedick 1-4 0-0 2, Church 0-0 0-0 0, Bunning 2-2 1-1 5, McRoberts 1-3 1-2 4. Totals: 29-67 3-8 65.

NDSU: Johnson 4-8 0-1 8, Browning 1-6 1-2 3, DeGagne 7-14 1-3 15, Birkel 6-11 2-2 16, Van Kirk 3-9 0-0 6, Becken 0-1 4-4 4, Linz 3-6 3-5 10, Whittle 1-4 0-1 2, Stephenson 0-1 0-0 0, Gaines 1-3 1-2 4. Totals: 26-63 12-20 68.

Halftime: NDSU 34, UMC 30. Total fouls: UMC 19, NDSU 14. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: UMC 37 (Tyson 8); NDSU 46 (Birkel, Whittle 7). 3-point goals: UMC 4-25 (Wiese 0-5, Walker 1-4, Perkins 0-1, Martell 0-3, Christenson 0-2, Thielman 2-5, Moenkedick 0-1, Thorn 1-3, McRoberts 0-1); NDSU 4-15 (Johnson 0-2, DeGagne 0-2, Birkel 2-2, Van Kirk 0-1, Becken 0-1, Linz 1-3, Whittle 0-1, Stephenson 0-1, Gaines 1-2). Assists: UMC 16 (Moenkedick 3); NDSU 10 (DeGagne 6). Turnovers: UMC 15 (Tyson 3); NDSU 17 (DeGagne 6). A-883.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia