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This has been something of a revival year for the UMD basketball teams, both men and women, although while the women clinched the Northern Sun title last weekend by sweeping Northern State and Minnesota State-Moorhead to finish undefeated at Romano Gym, the men blew a chance to climb into a tie at the top with Northern State, which knocked the Bulldogs back a peg.
As attractions go, Brandon Myer, a senior from Superior, is setting a torrid pace through the homestretch of his final season. When he scored two on Friday night, he tied Mike Patterson for the No. 2 spot on the UMD career scoring list, with 1,806. Myer went on to score 31 in a remarkable performance because his teammates were as cold as he was hot in an 85-73 loss to Northern State. The Wolves had five players in double figures, led by Gabe King’s 24.
Northern shot 61.54 percent for the second half and 44.6 for the game, while UMD shot a miserable 28.57 percent in the first half and 44.4 in the second, for a total percentage of 36.6. Myer, meanwhile, was 11-19 from the floor, 3-8 from 3-point range, and 6-6 in free throws. Alex Illikainen was only 6-16, while Drew Blair, Trevor Entwisle and Logan Rohrscheib combined for a meager 7-31 shooting, although they kept on shooting.
The loss put distance between Northern and second-place UMD, although the Bulldogs bounced back Saturday night against Moorhead. Thanks to Myer, again,
When Myer vaulted into second place in career points, he still trailed No. 1 Jay Guidinger, who compiled 1,953 between 1987-91. That caused a bit of conversation with an old friend I spotted in the stands — Roger Hanson.
Three years ago, when I stopped by to watch UMD play basketball, I thought the team looked pretty mediocre. They didn’t seem to have much going for them, except for this lanky kid who sort of quietly positioned himself on the left side, and on the rare occasions when a teammate would pass him the ball, he did something smart with it — often sending a high-arching shot into the basket.
He was better as a sophomore, and it occurred to me that now he was a sophomore, from Superior, and I declared that he might be the best Twin Ports raised athlete to play basketball at UMD since Roger Hanson in the 1960s. Hanson played guard with Terry Kunze on the 1961 Duluth Central team that went undefeated to win the state title, and while Kunze was flashy and angular, Hanson was smooth and precise. Kunze went to Minnesota, and Hanson turned down half a ride to Minnesota to stay close to home and play for Norm Olson’s UMD team.
What I recall best about Hanson was that he would send these artful outside shots that seemed to drop straight down through the basket with barely a ripple in the nets. Beautiful. So my comparison with Myer was a compliment, although Myer sheepishly admitted he knew nothing about Hanson, who hit enough of those perfect jump shots to accumulate 1,404 points himself over his four years at UMD.
Roger and I discussed the chances Myer has of catching Guidinger for No. 1 overall in career scoring, with a game Saturday, then this next weekend’s two games on the road, followed by however playoff games the Bulldogs might play. While we discussed it, Myer refused to join his teammates in their off-night by scoring 31 points, to get a head start on catching Guidinger. When the game was over, he was only 116 points in arrears.
Saturday, the Bulldogs played much better, beating Moorhead 99-86, and Myer didn’t cool off. He scored a career high 45 points, making 13 of 25 shots, 5 of 8 from 3-point range, and 14 of 18 free throws. Alex Illikainen supported him with 21 points on 8-12 shooting, and Rohrscheib added 13 for a solid night. The Bulldogs shot 32-62 for 51.6 percent.
The women are heading for a potentially big playoff run, after beating Northern 65-54 Friday, as 6-foot-2 sophomore Brooke Olson scored 19. UMD followed up by knocking off Moorhead 70-47 Saturday. Their 18-2 record in league play — including an undefeated home regular season — clinches the first Northern Sun title for UMD’s women since 2003 — 17 years. And even though Saturday was Senior Night, sophomore Brooke Olson from Rice Lake, Wis., continued to lead the way, scoring 13 in a balanced attack.
Both UMD teams hit the road for this, their final regular season weekend. They play at Minnesota-Crookston Friday night, then go to Bemidji State to end the regular season with doubleheaders. After that, it will be back to cozy Romano Gym for the first playoff round. The women seem to have a big edge at home.
And the men have the tools, as long as they decide to not fire up random threes whenever there’s an opening, and show some poise in their shot selection. Illikainen is a The simple thing, of course, is to keep feeding the ball to No. 10 — Brandon Myer. Let’s see if we can get him the all-time career scoring record!