Despite accumulating rather pedestrian win-loss records by Augustana’s recent standards, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been playing at a high, competitive level of late.
A rash of injuries did enough damage to the men’s squad to essentially dash its postseason hopes. Leading returning scorer Al Richter, junior, has been unable to get on the court. Sophomore Tanner Odegaard who, according to Head Coach Tom Billeter “can shoot the crud out of (the ball),” has also been sidelined.
Zach Huisken, who started the majority of last season as a freshman, and Brennan Olson, a key rotation member last year, are no longer on the team. Freshman Matthew Brazendale also missed about six weeks with a broken wrist suffered on Dec. 13.
Both teams have dealt with issues (health, of course, for the men, and a lack of size for the women) but both have, nonetheless, put together respectable campaigns.
“We’ve played really well,” Billeter said. “We’ve had double digit leads against some really good teams. We’ve played more good basketball than bad; it’s just I’m not sure the wins and losses have quite shown that.”
Recent games against St. Cloud State and Upper Iowa validate Billeter’s view. The Vikings deteriorated and gave up a huge lead in the final ten minutes in St. Cloud (Feb. 1, the second night of a back-to-back) and then a week later on Feb. 8 fell in similar devastating fashion to an Upper Iowa team riding a five-game winning streak. Augie also let a 17-point first-half lead slip away against SMSU on Jan. 25, losing by two points.
According to Billeter, in the last ten minutes of Saturday night games (the second leg of back-to-back games), the Vikings have surrendered an average of 28 points per game (according to coach Billeter). Translated over 40 minutes, that number equates to 112 points per game—a number that would be historically awful. Those last ten minutes have exposed the lack of depth the team has had to endure because of injuries.
“Some kids are starting who probably would have redshirted, and we’re subbing some kids who are walk-ons,” Billeter said.
The women’s team has not dealt with roster depletion on the same level as the men, but their lack of a consistent inside presence has hindered their chances of winning against bigger, more physical foes. Rather than attempt to match height with height, head coach Dave Krauth decided to go even smaller by recently inserting redshirt freshman guard Sydney Rome into the starting lineup.
“We were so small already, and I thought she would give us the possibility of knocking down a couple of threes for us,” Krauth said. “We’re sort of an up-tempo team. That’s the way we’ve sort of always been.”
Sure enough, when MSU-Moorhead needed baskets late in the game Friday night, they unrelentingly fed the post, yielding enough results to fight back and win a roller coaster battle, 78-76 over the Viking women.
Saturday against Northern State, Krauth rescinded his decision to go small and instead implanted senior forward Katie Meister into the lineup in place of Rome. Ironically, the ladies used their quickness to their advantage better against Northern, utilizing a full court press that yielded many turnovers that were key in a 79-62 victory.
The men’s team has also recently adjusted its rotation. Senior Isaac Jorgensen joined the team in December upon the completion of his football career at Augustana—a career which saw him earn three All-NSIC selections. Billeter actually recruited Jorgensen, a Roosevelt graduate, in high school to play basketball for the Vikings.
“He’s just getting more comfortable,” Billeter said. It’s been nice to have him for some minutes because I think he plays hard, and he’s really smart.”
Jorgensen provided the men with the energy off the bench they sorely needed to hold off MSU-Moorhead 92-88 on Friday night. He played a career high 21 minutes, supplying seven points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block.
Both head coaches believe only an NSIC tournament championship can earn them a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Nonetheless, both take pride in the level of play their teams have exhibited throughout the season.
“We’re very capable of beating anybody,” Krauth said. “We’re going to have to play very well, and we’re very capable of stringing a few (wins) together, and that would be great.”