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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 09 2014

Bison ready for run at Dance

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – North Dakota State has practiced in some big-time arenas over the course of its Division I life, such as Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Sunday’s practice at the University of Sioux Falls will not go down that road, but the Bison aren’t here on a sight-seeing trip, either.

It’s all business starting tonight when the Bison play the University of Denver in the semifinals of the Summit League tournament. NDSU, which got a first-round bye via winning the regular-season title, needs two wins to reach the NCAA tournament. Denver got there by defeating the University of South Dakota 71-55 in Sunday night’s quarterfinals.

But thinking about all the NCAA ramifications and worrying in general is not how the Bison operate in the day or two leading up to a game. They appeared loose and relaxed in the hour workout at the Stewart Center – and don’t expect that to change in the minutes before tipoff.

“Come game time, we want to be as loose as we can,” said center Marshall Bjorklund. “The way we play defense, that’s what works best is when we’re loose. We don’t want to be too tight or worry about too many things.”

“We’re relaxed,” said guard Taylor Braun. “We’re a confident group, not too tense or anything like that. This is no time to have any type of doubt, so just come out and play hard.”

Braun will carry the Summit’s Player of the Year torch into the game. Both he and Bjorklund were first-team

all-league picks.

On Sunday, those distinctions were as distant as Braun’s Newberg, Ore., home.

Both are seniors in their last go-around at making the big dance. The Bison reached the Summit title game last year before falling to South Dakota State.

“My main goal since I got on campus was to make the NCAA tournament,” Braun said. “This is my last chance, so it’s kind of do-or-die now for all of us seniors.”

The Bison will have a size advantage on the Pioneers, something that was evident in the 78-68 win in the regular season finale just last week. NDSU had a 32-19 rebounding advantage.

“We’ll have to battle down low and use our quickness to our advantage,” said Denver guard Brett Olson. “We’ll have a game plan and try to execute it as well as we can.”

It’s a good bet NDSU’s game plan will focus on guarding the 3-point shooting threat of the Pioneers. They were 10 of 22 against the Coyotes following a 15 of 32 effort at NDSU last week.

“We have some strength in our perimeter play,” said Denver head coach Joe Scott, who said the key for his team will be to match NDSU’s strength. “You have to be ready because it’s so hard, so physical and if we’re wired like that, we’ll be fine.”

Denver is an interesting case study in league tournaments. The Pioneers are playing in their third different one in three years, having been in the Sun Belt Conference two years ago and the Western Athletic Conference last season.

“We’re the expert on league tournaments,” Scott said. “Each one is the same in that everything is at stake. For our caliber of competition, this is really good. It’s a great environment and it’s why players play this game. It’s called competing at the highest level.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia