Fire on ice
Also: Big hoops games on tap; NDSU’s Linz facing cancer again
Last Updated - January 17, 2013 5:54 GMT
Both teams are on fire heading into the series that begins Friday in Minneapolis. The top-ranked Golden Gophers are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1) and have posted just one loss in their past 15 games (11-1-3), while No. 6 UND has put together a 7-1-1 mark in its past nine games.
It is a series fans will not want to miss as it could be awhile before the two squads meet again in the regular season as both teams are leaving the WCHA after this season. Minnesota will compete in the Big Ten Conference next year, while UND will be leaving for the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference, joining Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan.
At the moment, there are no future games scheduled between the two programs — an all-time series that dates to the 1947-48 season when UND first became a varsity team. Minnesota leads the series 137-130-4, but UND is 17-13-3 against the Gophers under ninth-year head coach Dave Hakstol. The teams met six times last season with Minnesota winning four, including a 5-2 victory in the NCAA West Region final.
Entering the weekend, the rivals are tied for third place in the WCHA standings with 19 points each, trailing Denver and Nebraska-Omaha by one point. Each of those squads has played 16 league games, two more than Minnesota and North Dakota.
The series features two of the nation’s top offenses as Minnesota leads Division I with 3.82 goals per game and North Dakota ranks sixth nationally with 3.45 goals per game.
Junior Erik Haula tops the Gophers with 26 points on nine goals and 17 assists and needs just one more point to become the first Minnesota player since 2009 to reach the 100-point milestone. However, Haula has missed the past three contests and it will be a game-day decision whether he is in the lineup.
For UND, seniors Danny Kristo and Corban Knight have combined for 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in the past seven games. Knight (31 points) and Kristo (30) are the only teammates in the nation who have reached the 30-point mark this season.
The Gophers’ defense is not too shabby, either, with a 1.82 goals-against average — third-best in the nation — led by freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox. UND will counter with junior Clarke Saunders, a transfer from Alabama-Huntsville, who is 6-1-1 in his past eight games, and ranks fourth in the conference with a .676 winning percentage.
The series at Mariucci Arena is sold out, but if you have deep pockets there are a few dozen seats for sale on StubHub running anywhere from $75 for standing room only to $350 for lower-level seats. For fans without a ticket, or not in the Minneapolis area, the games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports North. Friday’s contest starts at 8 p.m. ET, and Saturday’s begins at 6 p.m. ET.
• No. 1 Louisville and No. 6 Syracuse will square off on Saturday in a battle for first place in the Big East Conference, as well as national standing, in Division I men’s basketball. Both teams boast 16-1 overall records, and are 4-0 in league play. Louisville is riding an 11-game winning streak into the game at the KFC Yum! Center, while Syracuse is looking to extend its six-game win string. The Cardinals are off to their best start since the 2003-04 season.
It will be the 11th time in school history that Syracuse will face a top-ranked team. Syracuse is 3-7 against No. 1 squads, and has won two of its past four meetings against top-ranked clubs. The most recent time the Orange faced a No. 1 team ended in a 63-49 loss against Connecticut in 2009.
Gonzaga-Butler should be more major than mid.
• The No. 8 Gonzaga men’s basketball team is off to its best start in school history at 16-1 heading into Thursday’s game at Portland in a West Coast Conference matchup. The Zags will then play their final non-conference contest of the season on Saturday at Butler’s legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse when they visit the No. 13 Bulldogs for a nationally televised clash of two mid-major powers at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Bulldogs are on an 11-game winning streak, including an upset of then-No. 1 Indiana.
• The No. 12 UCLA women’s basketball team enters the weekend as a co-leader with USC in the Pac-12 Conference standings, but the Bruins will certainly be facing their toughest tests of the season when they visit No. 6 Stanford on Friday and No. 7 California on Sunday. The game against the Cardinal will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks, while Sunday’s contest will be televised on ESPNU. Junior forward Atonye Nyingifa has been the Bruins’ sparkplug of late, scoring in double-digits in each of the past five games. The team’s second-leading scorer averaged 17.0 points in last week’s wins against Washington and Washington State, earning the Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.
• The UTEP (14-1) women’s basketball squad will look to set a record for the program’s best start when the Miners host Alabama-Birmingham on January 20 in a Conference USA contest. UTEP, which is receiving votes in the latest national poll, is currently on a league-best, nine-game winning streak and 10-0 at home for just the second time in school history. The game will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Network at 3 p.m. ET.
• After going winless against Big Ten competition last season, the No. 24 Wisconsin wrestling team is off to a 3-0 start in league action following a come-from-behind 19-6 upset of No. 11 Michigan last weekend. Riding a streak of four dual wins, the Badgers will face their toughest match of the season when they visit No. 1 Penn State on Friday.
The Nittany Lions also will be looking to extend a streak of their own as they have shutout their first two league foes, including a 41-0 victory against Michigan State last week. Penn State senior 197-pounder Quentin Wright enters the weekend with 99 career victories and is attempting to become the 27th Nittany Lion to reach the 100-win milestone. The meet will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.
• The two remaining undefeated Great Lakes Valley Conference men’s basketball teams will tangle on Thursday as No. 5 Indianapolis heads to No. 4 Kentucky Wesleyan. Both squads enter the contest with 12-0 records and 4-0 marks in league play. The two teams split a pair of regular-season meetings last year, each winning on the road. The matchup looks to be a high-scoring affair as Kentucky Wesleyan and Indianapolis are the two most productive offenses in the league with an scoring averages of 83.9 and 83.3, respectively.
• Ashland women’s basketball head coach Sue Ramsey will be vying for her 400th career victory on Thursday as the No. 1 Eagles play host to Findlay in a matchup of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division’s top two squads. Ashland boasts a winning streak of 30 home games, while Findlay was the most recent team to beat the Eagles at Kates Gymnasium during the 2010-11 season. The unbeaten Eagles also will be looking to extend their 32-game winning streak against GLIAC foes.
• Six of the top teams in men’s gymnastics will converge in Chicago for the 17th annual Windy City Invite on Saturday hosted by No. 10 Illinois-Chicago. Those five hail from the Big Ten with No. 1 Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa competing in the meet. Defending national champion Illinois opened the season last week with a convincing 425.450-385.750 victory against UIC, while it will be the first meet of the year for Big Ten-favorite Michigan.
Ohio State won the meet last year, followed by Illinois and Michigan. Illinois sophomore C.J. Maestas won the all-around title last season, but is out for the 2013 season with a tricep injury. Michigan returns two event winners from last year’s meet — Syque Caesar in the parallel bars and 2012 U.S. Olympian Sam Mikulak in the floor exercise.
Hannah Linz played in 100 games for the Bison since the start of the 2009-10 season, averaging 6.5 points.
North Dakota State Athletics
• North Dakota State women’s basketball senior Hannah Linz’ playing career has come to an unexpected end after a recurrence of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On Jan. 3, head coach Carolyn DeHoff announced the senior guard is facing cancer for the second time and will begin treatment soon. A native of Watkins, Minn., Linz originally was diagnosed with the cancer on April 8, 2010, following her freshman year.
“We have witnessed firsthand Hannah’s fight to beat it the first time and see this setback as nothing different in her approach to win the battle with cancer this time,” DeHoff said. “We ask that you keep her in your thoughts and prayers and respect Hannah’s privacy at this time.”
A three-time Summit League All-Academic Team selection, Linz finished her career with 156 3-pointers made, which ranks second all time at the school.
NDSU student-athletes are asking for goodwill donations for Linz at home games, which can also be made directly to the Hannah Linz Fund at any Gate City Bank location in Fargo, N.D. For more information, contact Lynn Dorn, NDSU Director of Women’s Athletics, at 701-231-7807 or Lynn.Dorn@ndsu.edu.
• New York’s Riley Wurtz stands just 5 feet 3 inches tall, yet the freshman guard from Sandy Hook, Conn., is the Violets’ leading rebounder with 9.6 per game. She is the shortest player on a team that returned just one player from last season.
“Just as unique as it looks on paper, it is,” NYU first-year head coach, Lauren Hall-Gregory, said. “Riley has her own unique style and approach to the game. She’s one of those kids when in a 50-50 situation, which rebounding is, she wins it constantly. She’s a really good athlete and has a knack for the ball. I play her 35 minutes a game, so she has a lot of opportunities.”
“I don’t think rebounding is about height, I think it is about who hustles the most to get it,” Wurtz said. “It also helps I can jump pretty high.”
According to Hall-Gregory, Wurtz is a versatile combo-guard who can hit 3-pointers or drive to the basket, as well as rebound the basketball. Wurtz also ranks second on the team in scoring, and leads the Violets in assists.
“I think if I was on the opposing team … it is hard to believe until you see it,” Hall-Gregory said.
The Violets (8-6) on the season, will face their toughest test to date when they travel to No. 7 Washington (Mo.) for a University Athletic Association contest on Friday.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy