A scene from Spokane WA before the Bison and Sooner basketball game
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North Dakota State takes lead from head coach: Bison feel good heading into matchup with Oklahoma

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After winning the Summit League Tournament, North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips promised that his players would enjoy the ride that is the NCAA Tournament.  That ride starts today in Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena against an Oklahoma Sooners team probably tiring of hearing about Phillip’s Bison.  Phillips, one of the more exuberant coaches in the entire tournament, described his team in a widely circulated video, “Chasing Cinderella,” as having a fire in their belly, yet being happy.  “I’ve learned you can do both,” explained Phillips.  “You can soak up every second of this, we’re not too cool for school now, we’re giddy.  Put that tough game face away, you can smile once in awhile too.”

There is no question a win over Oklahoma would be one of the crowning achievements in the history of NDSU athletics.  Despite that prospect of national exposure should the Bison win, Phillips says that dwarfs what the win would mean to him personally.  “You can’t get crazy with what could come next,” Phillips said.  “It’s as simple as this: I love this group of young men. They are a blast to coach … To me, I’ll think about the possibilities of what it means long-term for our program, after this is over.  But for right now, I want to keep coaching these guys, I’m having a blast.”

 

The Bison players take their lead from Phillips.  They are a loose group.  The nucleus of  the group, Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, TrayVonn Wright and Lawrence Alexander have been playing together for three years.  That experience brings a level of poise and maturity as they head into the biggest game of their basketball lives.  It’s business as usual.  “We’re not really preparing any other way than we have all season,” said Bjorklund, who finished the regular season sixth in the NCAA in field goal percentage.  “We have been here for quite a few years.  So, as far as preparation, we’re just – we know they’re going to be a little bit longer, maybe a little more athletic, but we’re going to play our game.  We’re preparing just like we have every game and it’s worked out pretty good thus far.”

Bjorklund’s roommate, TrayVonn Wright, said the guys take their lead from Phillips.  “Keep things consistent. My mindset’s the same as every other game.  Go out and try to win.  Coach is the same way too.”  Wright is one of the hottest players on NDSU’s roster entering tonight’s tournament game.  A high-flying dunkster that creates matchup problems with his three-point shooting ability, Wright was named to the Summit League all-tournament team and led all scorers in the conference title game against Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, finishing with 19 points.  Wright connected for 37 threes this year while leading the Summit League in highlight reel dunks.  The experience and consistency of NDSU’s nucleus was noted by Oklahoma head coach, Lon Kruger, during his Wednesday afternoon press conference.  “They have lots of experience, guys that can make shots, Bjorklund inside, Braun on the perimeter, lots of good players around those two,” said Kruger.  Kruger is no stranger to the tournament.  He’s taken five different teams to March Madness and is widely respected in coaching circles.  “If we don’t play well, we’re not going to win.  That’s what you expect come tournament time.”

The Bison know they’re in for a dogfight, and have no expectation they’ve slipped under Oklahoma’s radar.  “I definitely think that we’re not going to catch Oklahoma off guard,” said Braun, the Summit League player of the year.  “I’m pretty sure we’re going to get their best effort and best game.  Both teams are preparing hard and it’s going to be a very good, exciting game.  We’re all looking forward to it.”  Phillips promised the Bison would be all smiles for the tournament.  Those smiles will be beaming from Spokane to Fargo if the Bison knock off the Sooners.  “Listen, we get so many chances to have this stage, right,” Phillips said.  “I hope we stayed loose.  I think we have tried to.  They’re having fun … when we’re alone and it’s private, it’s rolling pretty loose right now.”

North Dakota State takes lead from head coach: Bison feel good heading into matchup with Oklahoma
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