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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 07 2013

DeGagne, Birkel lead North Dakota State women over Oakland University

FARGO – As her career is winding down, North Dakota State senior guard Katie Birkel is cranking it up. It’s been all guns firing lately.

Oakland University (Mich.) got a dose of her all-around game on Thursday night at the Bison Sports Arena. Birkel had 20 points and five assists and showed what a totally 100 percent healthy knee can do for a team that claimed a 73-68 win.

“She’s back to the way she looked two years ago,” said NDSU head coach Carolyn DeHoff.

Those ACL injuries are more than physical. Birkel said the confidence in her knee is back.

“As much as I said I was confident, it takes a little bit to get into it,” she admitted.

She also provided the killer shot. With the shot clock winding down, and stuck in traffic while losing her balance, she used her athletic ability to regain her composure and sank a one-handed 12-footer for a 66-60 lead with 54 seconds remaining.

“That’s your fifth-year senior there,” DeHoff said, who was then asked about having Birkel in the last two minutes of a game with a lead. “It’s a big advantage. You’re able to execute, break presses and manage the clock.”

It was originally slated to be a matchup of top Summit League inside players in Oakland’s Bethany Watterworth and NDSU’s Janae Burich, but both are out with injuries. So this one turned into a perimeter scoring fest.

Birkel moved into 11th place on the NDSU all-time scoring list with 1,365 points passing Amanda Gehrke, who had 1,355 from 1998-2002. Forward Dani DeGagne led NDSU with 21 points and had eight rebounds. She has 985 career points and is in 30th place on the all-time scoring list.

“She was feeling it,” Birkel said.

DeHoff said it was a product of good movement on offense, which gave NDSU’s playmakers like Birkel and DeGagne room to move. On the other end, in an oddity, the Bison threw a free throw shutout at Oakland.

The Grizzlies were 0 of 7 from the line while the Bison were 15 of 19. NDSU is ranked 14th in the country in free throw accuracy.

“We talk about things we can control,” DeHoff said, also referring to a No. 18 ranking in fewest turnovers in Division I. NDSU is averaging only just over 11 turnovers in Summit play.

OU (8-14, 2-8 Summit): E. Hamlet 3-6 0-2 6, Nash 5-11 0-4 10, Popkey 6-15 0-0 16, Apsey 0-3 0-0 0, Lipscomb 6-12 0-0 14, A. Hamlet 6-8 0-0 16, Vestin 0-0 0-0 0, Carlton 1-4 0-0 2, Russell 2-3 0-1 4, Herrington 0-1 0-0 0, Minifee 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 29-64 0-7 68.

NDSU (9-14, 5-6 Summit): Keena 2-7 2-2 6, Whittle 2-8 4-5 8, DeGagne 9-16 3-4 21, Birkel 6-13 5-6 20, Van Kirk 3-9 0-0 7, Johnson 4-4 0-0 8, Gaines 1-3 1-2 3. Totals: 27-60 15-19 73.

Halftime: NDSU 33, OU 32. Total fouls: OU 16, NDSU 12. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: OU 34 (Nash 8); NDSU 40 (Whittle 11). 3-point goals: OU 10-21 (Nash 0-3, Popkey 4-5, Lipscomb 2-4, Apsey 0-1, A. Hamlet 4-5, Carlton 0-2, Minifee 0-1); NDSU 4-13 (Whittle 0-2, Birkel 3-4, Van Kirk 1-5, DeGagne 0-1). Assists: OU 14 (Lipscomb 4); NDSU 14 (Birkel 5). Turnovers: OU 12 (Popkey 4); NDSU 10 (Van Kirk 3). A-489.

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia