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BASKETBALL: Bemidji State women hang with North Dakota, but UND pulls away late in exhibition

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The Bemidji State women’s basketball team’s exhibition opener Thursday night featured plenty of the usual first-game jitters and offseason rust.

The Beavers battled with North Dakota for 30 strong minutes, but a lapse midway through the second half handed the Beavers a deficit they couldn’t recover from. In the end, UND pulled out a 76-67 exhibition win against BSU Thursday night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

BSU junior college transfer Lanae Rash shined in her NCAA Division II debut.

Rash, who averaged 28.7 points per game at Rainy River Community College last year, scored a game-high 23 points. She added four assists and five rebounds in 34 minutes off the bench.

The guard from Milwaukee was an efficient 9-for-16 from the field and 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.

“For an opening act, it was a good one,” Bemidji State coach Mike Curfman said. “She has great instincts, and she’s not afraid to look for her shot when it’s there. It was one game, but we’re very pleased with how she helped our team.”

Jessie Althoff, who missed last season with an injury, added 14 points and former East Grand Forks standout Kate Warmack chipped in 10 points to help the Beavers.

UND led just 33-30 at halftime after Nicole Smart hit a layup at the intermission buzzer.

Smart, a guard, led UND with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.

The senior from Ada said the Green and White still has work to do before their first season in the Big Sky Conference.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said UND guard Nicole Smart, who finished with a team-high 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. “There is lots to improve on, but I thought the effort was there and that’s key to wins down the road.”

The pesky Beavers lingered around much of the second half, once stringing together a 7-0 run to pull within 58-53 with about seven minutes remaining.

But North Dakota would answer with a 13-3 spurt to bump the lead to 15 (71-56 with 2:32 left).

North Dakota shot a poor 32.4 percent from the field in the first half, but bounced back to shoot 62.1 percent in the second half.

“We’ve got to work on finishing around the hoop a bit,” UND coach Travis Brewster said. “We missed some bunnies. We were also trying to get home runs instead of moving the ball around the horn. When we figured that out in the second half, that’s how we pulled away.”

Pulling away wasn’t easy, though.

Despite outrebounding Bemidji State 47-30, UND couldn’t take advantage as it turned the ball over 23 times and shot 53.8 percent from the free-throw line (14-for-26).

“Reason being (for the turnovers) is when you get a little excited, you want to hit that home-run pass,” Brewster said. “That’s something we’re going to work on this week and try cut down a little bit.”

Curfman said the Beavers were trying to play more aggressive.

“We played with a lot of aggressiveness and energy,” Curfman said. “I really liked our resiliency. There’s a lot of room for improvement, though. We can’t have letdowns in the second half like that against a quality team like North Dakota.”

After Smart’s big night, UND was aided by 13 points from Emily Evers, 12 from Madi Buck and 10 from Katie Houdek. UND also played without last season’s leading scorer, Allyssa Wall, who sat out with an injury.

The Beavers return home for a set of games this weekend. They’ll take on Lakehead University of Thunder Bay, Ontario, for a pair of nonconference contests tonight and Saturday at the BSU Gymnasium. Both games are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m.

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