The Valley City State University mens basketball team has spent the entire season adapting to the injuries sustained by various team members.
Friday, in the team's 78-67 win over NCAA Division III's University of Minnesota — Morris, the Vikings were short their tall post player Gus Kuebler, who isn't injured, but had the night off as the team readies for a key stretch of the season.
With Kuebler out of the lineup, VCSU coach Jeff Kaminsky encouraged his guards to help grab rebounds, and more than anyone, senior John Raquel responded.
Raquel, who started the year out with an injury, led the Vikings with a double double, grabbing 11 rebounds, 10 defensive, and scoring 10 points in his first start of the season.
"For John to come up with 10 defensive rebounds is pretty special," Kaminsky said. "He's a player and he's a guy that we missed in the first part of the year. This is his first start of the year and he definitely added a different dimension to our basketball team."
It was an all around effort that helped the Vikings in a game that included 15 lead changes, including nine in the first half.
In the first five minutes, the two teams played chicken, with Morris getting the first point of the game, before VCSU went up 3-1 on a 3-pointer from Christopher Embden.
The Cougars soon tied it and the teams traded leads until UMM went on a 9-2 run to make it 17-11 with 12:19 left.
The Vikings got the lead back shortly after, getting a layup from Anthony Saavedra, a 3-pointer from Sekani Milligen, and another layup from Saavedra, who had an open lane after two Morris defenders collided and fell near the 3-point line, which put the Vikings up 18-17. VCSU never had a lead of more than five points in the first half, finishing with a 37-34 lead midway through.
The game remained close until midway in the second half, when the Vikings broke away with a small run.
It started with VCSU trailing 52-50 with 10 minutes left. The Vikings got a steal in the defensive half that finished with a long pass to Aaron Duske, who had a layup to tie it with 9:20 left. Milligen then hit consecutive 3-pointers to go up 58-52, and the run was closed on a layup by Ty Pratt to make it 60-52 with 7:22 left.
The Vikings remained in the lead the rest of the game and closed it out by hitting eight of their final 10 free throws in the final minutes and a half.
Milligen led VCSU with 17 points, including 5-9 shooting from the 3-point line. He missed the final three minutes of the game after going down on a jump ball play and getting a cut. Duske had 13 points, going 5-9 from the field and hitting 3-4 free throws.
Morris was led by RJ Dean with 12 points, but also had four other players that contributed at least eight points, which gave the Cougars a depth the Vikings struggled with at times.
"They don't have that just one great player but they've got guys that, when they move the ball and all of a sudden somebody comes open, they all can shoot it," Kaminsky said. "You can't leave anybody open. You've got a lot of guys who have the ability to put it on the floor and it gave us a little bit of trouble there."
Though the Vikings lacked Kuebler in the post, Kaminsky praised both Pratt and Saavedra for taking his minutes in the post.
"Those guys really did a good job stepping into a bit of a role today," Kaminsky said.
VCSU women 65, UMM 39
The Valley City State University women’s basketball team ended 2012 with a loss, but the Vikings got back to their winning ways Friday with a 65-39 victory over Minnesota — Morris to start the 2013 calendar year.
The difference in the game was the shooting, or lack thereof for the Cougars, in the first half.
In the first 11 minutes, the teams played close.
A 3-pointer by Kayla Kramer opened the game for the Cougars, but VCSU took their first lead of the game a minute later after Katie Ralson hit a layup and Brittany Lehner hit two free throws to go up 4-2 with 18:10 to play in the game.
Morris tied it and took another lead on a 3-pointer by Kramer, though VCSU took it back on a 3 by Sierra Even to make it 9-7 just over five minutes in.
A layup by Cori Becker and a free throw by Carmen Bergstedt gave the Cougars a 10-9 lead, their last of the game. Their final shot from the floor the rest of the half came on a 3-pointer by Becker with 9:45 left, which tied it 13-13.
The rest of the half, the Vikings allowed only three more points, all from the free throw line, and took advantage of high percentage shots, to get eight points from Kelsey Hunter in the pain, seven from Lehner, and six from Stephanie Pederson, who hit a layup, a 3-pointer, and a free throw, by halftime.
Valley City State coach Jill DeVries credited the break to a combination of the Vikings' rotation, with kept new defenders coming in to keep up the pressure, along with the team's constant scoring.
The Vikings finished the half up 34-16 and shot 13-30 from the floor, including 2-3 from the 3-point line. Their opponents were only 4-21, including 3-12 from the 3-point line.
Though Morris worked to make it a game in the second half, the play scoring was largely the same, as the Vikings kept the Cougars from getting too close to strike.
Morris finished the game with only seven more shots from the floor, three from behind the arc.
Though Morris got within 14 with as few as 10 minutes left, the Vikings caught their stride again late, leading by as many as 27 with two minutes left.
DeVries left the game pleased with the team’s scoring depth. Though Lehner finished the game with 11 points to lead the Vikings, the team also had eight points each from underclassmen Kelsey Hunter and Courtney Dixon, and all 12 players scored at least two points.
"We've been saying all along that we've been trying to build depth," DeVries said.