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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 13 2014

Stephenson's progress not enough to prevent Bison defeat

FARGO – The experience of playing NCAA Division I women’s college basketball has outweighed the victories over the course of Miki Stephenson’s North Dakota State career. Thursday was another example.

The Bison had their moments of looking to take control of Western Illinois, only to see the Leathernecks make the key plays in the final 10 minutes. The 76-68 Western victory was the eighth loss at the Bison Sports Arena this season for NDSU, which has one more chance Saturday to recreate some of that old BSA nostalgia.

It will be the 77th career game for Stephenson, who will have something in common with the arena on Saturday against Nebraska-Omaha: It will be the last women’s home game for both.

“It doesn’t seem like it was just four years ago I was having senior night in high school,” Stephenson said. “It’s bittersweet. I try not to think about it. It’s been a fun four years, and it’s been a huge part of my life.”

The BSA is slated for a total overhaul after the season. Stephenson, a senior from Moorhead High, will have three Summit road games and the conference tournament before calling it a career.

Her contribution won’t be remembered so much statistically, but in staying the course over four years that included several academic awards. She worked her way into the starting lineup and started Thursday, leading the team with nine rebounds.

“I’m doing my job, doing my role,” Stephenson said. “Playing wise, I started to get the hang of it, and that comes with experience. The fun part is we’re a close group, and that makes it enjoyable.”

The Bison could probably look back at the closing minutes of the first half when they had a chance to take a decent lead into halftime. They led 32-23, but the Leathernecks scored the final six points to make it 32-29 at intermission.

Western hit two 3-pointers to open the second half, “and that gave them that momentum,” said Bison head coach Carolyn DeHoff.

It was back and forth from there until Western put together 10 straight points midway through the second half to take a 54-45 lead. The Bison got within 62-59 with Western in the process of missing a shot, but a Bison foul on the rebound led to two Leathernecks free throws with four minutes left.

One minute later, Western had its nine-point lead back.

NDSU dropped to 6-19 overall and 2-8 in the Summit. One of those victories was at Western, which avenged an 83-77 defeat in Macomb, Ill.

“It’s tough. Losing is never easy,” Stephenson said. “When it’s over, there’s nothing you can do but move on and focus on the next game.”

Bison freshman forward Hannah Breske did not play because of concussion symptoms.

WIU (13-11, 5-4 Summit): Luke 9-19 4-6 22, Harmon 6-11 0-0 13, Maher 3-9 5-6 13, Henricson 0-2 2-2 2, Niemann 5-6 6-10 17, Boyle 0-0 0-0 0, Hall 2-7 3-6 8, Skotowski 0-1 0-0 0, Riechelt 0-1 1-2 1. Totals: 25-56 21-32 76.

NDSU (6-19, 2-8 Summit): Johnson 5-16 1-3 13, Whittle 6-8 1-2 14, Stephenson 2-7 0-0 4, LeMar 7-13 1-2 16, Whatman 6-8 0-0 13, Becken 1-1 0-0 3, Keena 0-0 0-0 0, Spier 1-2 0-0 2, Brown 1-4 0-0 3, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 29-59 3-7 76.

Halftime: NDSU 32, WIU 29. Total fouls: WIU 10, NDSU 23. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: WIU 41 (Luke 14); NDSU 29 (Stephenson 9). 3-point goals: WIU 5-15 (Harmon 1-5, Maher 2-5, Hall 1-3, Niemann 1-1, Skotowski 0-1); NDSU 7-16 (Johnson 2-7, Whittle 1-1, LeMar 1-3, Becken 1-1, Brown 1-3, Whatman 1-1). Assists: WIU 13 (Luke 5); NDSU 13 (LeMar, Whatman 4). Turnovers: WIU 14 (Luke, Maher 4); NDSU 13 (LeMar 6). A-463.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia