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Wayne Nelson / Forum Communications , Published November 29 2012

UND's Houdek remembers past NDSU-UND women's basketball matchups

GRAND FORKS – Katie Houdek remembers her parents taking her to University of North Dakota-North Dakota State women’s basketball games when she was a lot younger.

Houdek doesn’t remember the particulars, but the former Grafton, N.D., standout can still recall the experience.

“I remember the atmosphere being crazy; tons of people and fun times,” said Houdek, now a junior for this year’s UND team.

The atmosphere that helped produce one of the best rivalries in women’s basketball is scheduled to return tonight at the Bison Sports Arena, where UND meets NDSU for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

“I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to play in this game,” Houdek said.

At the peak of the rivalry, both programs were Division II powers. For nearly a decade, the winner of the North Central Region – usually UND or NDSU – was the automatic favorite to win the Division II national title.

When NDSU made the move to Division I, however, the rivalry – for a handful of reasons – went on a hiatus. Now, it’s back.

“It’s a great opportunity for the state of North Dakota. It’s great for the universities. It’s great for our program. It’s great for their program and for all the young ladies involved,” said first-year coach Travis Brewster, who did experience the heated rivalry as a UND assistant.

“This is something that needed to happen with us being Division I now. It’s time to move forward and play this game.”

The game won’t pack the punch it did when both teams were in the same conference and fighting yearly for a national title.

But it’s a game that UND needs to win to help jump-start its season. North Dakota is 0-4, but the program has played the eighth-toughest schedule so far in Division I – with road games at Iowa State, South Florida and Duquesne.

“We would have liked to win our first four games, but to get our first win over NDSU would mean the world to me,” Houdek said.

For UND, the game comes down to improved shooting.

North Dakota has made only 29 percent of its field-goal attempts and only 62 percent of its shots from the free-throw stripe.

The teams have one common opponent this season – Harvard. NDSU (3-3) beat Harvard 82-71, while UND fell to the Crimson 65-52 on the opening weekend of the season.

After Friday’s game, it’s expected the teams will play yearly.

The players from both UND and NDSU have little – if any – experience with the rivalry. But that likely won’t matter.

“We have smart kids. They do their homework,” Brewster said. “I don’t have to say a lot.”

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor for the Grand Forks Herald