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Fighting Hawks falter late after pushing Big Sky favorite Eastern Washington to the limit

Jan. 6—GRAND FORKS — Most coaches aren't fond of morale victories. Sometimes, however, there are exceptions.

UND proved to be the latest case of that after the Fighting Hawks, who had struggled much of December, pushed Eastern Washington to the limit Saturday at The Betty — falling 72-65 in the final round of the Summit League-Big Sky Conference Challenge Series.

Eastern Washington is picked to win the Big Sky this season and came into The Betty with an 11-3 record, winning its previous five games.

"The result isn't what we wanted," said UND coach Mallory Bernhard. "But I thought our compete level was really good. I'm not a big believer in the morale victory but I thought we showed improvement from where we were two weeks ago."

UND dropped to 4-11 but finished 1-1 in the Summit-Big Sky series after winning on the road Wednesday night at Idaho State.

Now, the question is can UND use its momentum of its past two games to make a mark in the Summit League. The Hawks resume Summit play at home Thursday against Omaha.

UND didn't shoot well (36 percent) but played solid defense throughout to stay with Eastern Washington. UND led 46-38 after Kacie Borowicz (17 points) hit a short-range jumper with 2:07 left in the third quarter.

EWU, however, picked up timely 3-pointers the rest of the way and went ahead for good (55-53) on Jacinta Buckley's 3-pointer with 5:52 remaining.

UND had a final shot, though, to tie it at 68 with 17 seconds left but a corner 3-point attempt by Borowicz was off the mark.

"We did a lot of good things defensively, especially the first three quarters," said Bernhard. "There was a lot of good intensity and good communication from us. I saw a lot of heart from our team."

The one drawback for the Hawks came on the glass. EWU grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, leading to 18 second-chance points for the Eagles.

UND dropped its first two Summit games, falling to St. Thomas and South Dakota State.

"I think we learned from this," said UND senior Sammiyah Hoskin. "We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder after losing those games. We were trying to redeem ourselves, obviously."

There were 18 lead changes in the game and neither team led by more than eight points.

Kiera Pemberton added 10 points for the Hawks, who had nine players log seven minutes or more of playing time. Borowicz, the team's leading scorer, was on the court for 39 minutes and 55 seconds.

"I think this challenge series definitely helped us," said Bernhard. "It gives us some confidence because we were in kind of a slump. We'll find out as we get right back into conference play."

Hoskin also said the challenge series was beneficial.

"Our energy has been better for the last two games," she said.