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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 24 2013

Schnepf: Foul calls hurt game flow in NDSU-UND basketball game

GRAND FORKS - There are two college basketball teams in North Dakota that could very well be playing in the NCAA Tournament next March. But before they start thinking about that, players from North Dakota State and North Dakota better learn how to dance first.

There’s a new tango in college basketball this year. And it isn’t pretty.

The memo sent nationwide to college basketball officials to call tighter games this season was painfully noticeable in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center Sunday night. If you like watching teams shoot free throws, then college basketball may be the show for you this winter.

The 3,142 fans who packed the Betty during UND’s convincing 95-77 victory certainly didn’t appreciate the new brand of basketball. When all was said and done, there were 57 fouls called and 77 free throws shot.

At one point during the game with no flow, one fan yelled out the customary line: “Come on ref, call it both ways.”

They were. Too much so.

“Certainly with the new point of emphasis that the NCAA has placed on officials, it’s going to be hard to avoid getting fouls against a team like North Dakota,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips, who saw four of his starters foul out. “The refs have to call it that way or they are going to lose their job.

And it’s an adjustment for the fans. The energy in the building just went zap. Boy, it’s hard to get any kind of flow going. It’s different. It’s a reality.”

It certainly is, nationwide.

The hope with the new way of officiating is to reduce physical play, thus creating more freedom of movement and higher scoring. Points are up, but so are the fouls. Teams are still adapting.

But for a team like UND, which relies on senior standouts like Troy Huff and Aaron Anderson driving to the hoop and drawing fouls, adapting has been a bit easier.

“The rule is helping us,” said Anderson, who made 10 of 12 free throws to end up with 18 points.

“We are slowly getting adjusted,” said Huff, who poured in 32 points, making 13 of 17 free throws. “It will just take a little bit of time to get used to this.”

Beginning his eighth season as UND’s head coach, Brian Jones has his best team – one that scored 85 points in a loss at Wisconsin. A Bo Ryan-coached Wisconsin team does not give up 80 points at home very often. Nor does a Saul Phillips-coached Bison team give up more than 90 points that often.

To make things even more difficult for the Bison, UND’s bench outscored theirs by 16 points. With the new way of officiating, depth becomes an even bigger factor.

“No question,” Jones said. “Most teams can go seven or eight guys deep. Now I think you will have to play nine or 10. Not a lot of teams are conditioned to do that or are recruited to do that. But with this group we have, I think you will see guys being more efficient.”

Jones said the new way of officiating is good and bad.

“We attack and we get to the foul line,” Jones said, stressing the good news first. “But what I struggle with at times, we want flow to the game. We don’t want choppiness. It’s just a learning process right now.”

Back in 2004 when NDSU and UND ended its century-long rivalry in men’s basketball, who would have imagined a decade later that the following could happen: two teams from North Dakota could be playing in the NCAA Tournament. That’s very possible next spring with NDSU favored to win a Summit League championship and UND picked to finish second in the Big Sky Conference.

To get to the dance, UND – picked by the coaches to finish second in the Big Sky – must prove it can beat league heavyweights like Montana and Weber State. NDSU, picked to win the Summit, will have to prove it can knock off defending champion South Dakota State and keep pace with talented newcomer Denver University.

Perhaps more importantly, the Bison must prove it can adjust to the new dance.

“We have to keep our hands off them,” said Bison center Marshall Bjorklund, who along with fellow starters Lawrence Alexander, Kory Brown and TrayVonn Wright fouled out. “We have to adapt to it better.”

Phillips simply summed it up by saying: “We have to learn to guard without fouling.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be

found at www.areavoices.com