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Wayne Nelson / Forum News Service, Published March 18 2013

UND opens CollegeInsider.com basketball tournament against Northern Iowa

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The University of North Dakota has played Northern Iowa four times since North Dakota made the move to Division I men’s basketball prior to the 2008-09 season.

Northern Iowa handily won all four meetings, the last coming in November when the Panthers beat North Dakota 72-47.

“We had Troy (Huff) out and we just didn’t play well,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “But Northern Iowa had a lot to do with that. Defensively, they were very, very good. We like to think we’ve improved since then, but so have they.”

How much UND has improved will be on display on Wednesday when North Dakota again takes on Northern Iowa, this time in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. This is UND’s third-straight trip to the CIT, but this one has a little more meaning as North Dakota earned an at-large bid.

UND’s two previous trips came as the automatic qualifier from the Great West Conference.

“That shows what the (CIT) committee thinks about our team,” Jones said.

UND is 16-16, but has surged late in the season as the team’s health has steadily improved. For only the fourth game since the season opener, UND will have all five of its starters available.

And, yet, that may not be enough as the Panthers come in at 18-14 and feeling somewhat scorned.

Northern Iowa, which finished third in Missouri Valley Conference, was hoping for an NIT bid.

Its body of work this season is impressive. After beating UND in November, Northern Iowa played in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

Northern Iowa lost to Louisville – the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament – 51-46. The Panthers also lost to No. 19 Memphis 52-47 in that tournament.

“It’s a matter of us going out and playing like we have down the stretch, defending well and taking care of the basketball,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to play at a high level to have a chance.”

UND played at its highest level of the season in the Big Sky tournament, falling 76-74 to Weber State in the semifinals. Weber, after losing to Montana in the league title game, also is in the CIT and its 26 wins are more than any team competing in the NIT.

Northern Iowa’s strength is in part to its scoring balance and the 3-point shooting of Marc Sonnen (45.0 percent). Four players, led by Anthony James (13.9), score in double figures.

“They’re really unselfish and they’re well coached,” Jones said, referring to Ben Jacobson – a former UND player and assistant coach.

Nelson writes for the Grand Forks Herald