SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (UND Athletics) -- No. 6 seed North Dakota outscored the No. 3 seed Denver 52-26 in the second half to rally from a 16-point deficit and defeat the Pioneers, 80-67, in the Summit League Quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon in front of 2,971, mostly green, fans in Sioux Falls.
The Fighting Hawks (12-18) were nearly flawless on the defensive side of the ball during the fourth quarter, holding the Pioneers (17-13) scoreless over the final 6:28 of the contest and forcing eight turnovers to complete their largest comeback of the season.
Faith Dooley was the spark for the green and white, posting the first double-double of her career in the win. The senior scored a career-high 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting while matching her previous career-best 10 rebounds, dishing out two assists, and collecting a steal.
Four other Hawks reached double figures in scoring as well, led by Jill Morton’s game-high 15 points. The senior, who was limited to just 14 minutes due to foul trouble, hit all three of her attempts from distance while knocking down some crucial shots at the charity stripe the seal the win.
Julia Fleecs matched Morton’s effort with 15 points off the bench to pace UND’s 24 points from its reserves. The junior scored nine of her 15 in the first half to help the Hawks stay within striking distance, but also buried an enormous three in the second half to cut the deficit down to just three heading into the fourth quarter. Fleecs was third on the team with six rebounds while also recording a block in the win.
Lexi Klabo notched her 29th double-double of her career with 13 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and two assists. The senior helped UND dominate in the paint, outscoring the Pios 36-28 and winning the rebounding battle 51-34.
Melissa Dailey was the final player in double figures for UND, finishing with 10 points, three assists, two rebounds, and a pair of steals. The senior has now reached double figures in three of her last four contests, starting with a 14-point outing against Denver in the meeting on Feb. 23.
Both sides made a point to shoot the triple in the early going, as each team drained a trio of shots from deep in the opening five minutes of action. Denver used a 13-0 scoring spurt over a three minute span to build a 21-9 lead with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter. UND struggled to maintain possession of the basketball throughout the stanza, committing six turnovers that led to nine Pioneer points.
Trailing by 10 to begin the second quarter, UND battened down the hatches on the defensive side of the ball. The Hawks held the Pios scoreless for the opening 3:08 of the stanza while striking for the first six points of the frame to cut the deficit down to four, 23-19, with just under seven minutes to play in the half. Klabo anchored the defense with a pair of blocks on the same defensive possession while Fleecs and Dailey struck on the offensive side to spark the run.
After the long scoring drought, Denver took control through the middle of the second quarter by outscoring the green and white, 17-5, to build its largest lead of the game at the time, 40-24, with just over one minute to play in the half.
Turnovers proved to be the biggest difference in the 13-point lead for the Pioneers heading into the break, as the No. 3 seed turned UND’s 15 giveaways into 16 points throughout the first 20 minutes of play. Fleecs continued to be the offensive spark off the bench for UND, scoring a team-high nine points on 4-of-6 shooting to lead the Hawks in the first half.
The second half started favorably for the Fighting Hawks, striking on four of their first five shots from the field and holding the Pioneers to just 10 points over the first five minutes of the frame to cut the deficit down to eight, 51-43, in the third quarter. Fleecs and Dailey were tough inside to get themselves to the foul line and create offensive opportunities in the paint.
Denver pushed the lead back to double figures by holding the Hawks scoreless for 2:27, but UND started to claw back once again late in the third quarter by embarking on a 6-0 run to cut the lead down to just six, 55-49, and forcing a DU timeout with 2:24 to play in the stanza.
Out of the timeout UND continued to cut into the lead, bringing the score down to one when Fleecs buried a transition three following a Dooley steal in the final seconds before Denver converted its first field goal in over four minutes at the horn to carry a 61-58 lead into the final quarter.
North Dakota took its first lead since the score was 9-8 in the first quarter when Bailey Strand nailed a three off a sweet feed by Klabo to put the Fighting Hawks in front, 64-63, however, Denver answered right back with four straight to take a 67-64 lead with 5:47 to play in the contest.
The lead was short lived for the Pios as Klabo sandwiched back-to-back buckets in the paint around a Claire Orth triple from the wing to spark seven straight points by the Hawks and a 71-67 lead with just over two minutes to play. After suffering from the turnover bug in the first half, it was Denver who struggled to hold onto the ball through its 6:13 scoreless stretch. The Pios committed six turnovers over that span and allowed UND to maintain its advantage.
UND iced the game at the charity stripe, capping off a 15-0 run over the final 6:13 of the game to close out the victory and advance to the semifinals on Monday afternoon where the Fighting Hawks will face No. 2 seed South Dakota at 2:30 p.m. in Sioux Falls.