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Holquist gives state of the Bulldogs address

Christmas provides the college basketball season with the perfect symmetry. Early-season battles have been fought, lessons have been learned, and then the holidays come giving many teams an opportunity to rest, recuperate and analyze what went ri...

Christmas provides the college basketball season with the perfect symmetry. Early-season battles have been fought, lessons have been learned, and then the holidays come giving many teams an opportunity to rest, recuperate and analyze what went right and what did not during the season's first half.
No team appreciates that symmetry more than UMD (5-5, 2-0 NSIC), which barely survived an up-and-down first month.
Things began well enough for the Bulldogs, who jumped out of the gate with wins in three of their first four games, but soon after, a vicious schedule caught up to them. UMD went 2-4 in its next six games and watched top scorer Jake Nettleton get knocked out of the lineup with a concussion and facial lacerations on Dec. 12 against Michigan Tech.
Without Nettleton, the Bulldogs dropped a 91-68 decision to the University of South Dakota on Dec. 14, before the holidays thankfully arrived.
"When you combine the competition that we played, finals and our youth -- all those factors get to be a grind," said UMD's head coach Gary Holquist. "And now it's over. I gave 'em five good days off, and they came back pretty refreshed. It's a built-in scenario where you can let your team regroup and come back with new life again."
Leading the way will be the freshly-recovered Nettleton, who was back on the floor this week and expecting to play on Saturday against Bemidji State.
"He's such a player," said Holquist. "We missed his intensity when he was not out there."
Especially against powerful squads like Michigan Tech and South Dakota.
"Every year we begin the season by playing against ranked opponents that really push us mentally and physically," said Holquist. "That way we find out where our weaknesses are."
Holquist knows now, and the break has given him an opportunity to address them.
"I think we're right on the edge of being a very good basketball team," he said. "You don't have discovery unless you play against good people, and our discovery was that we need to become better at taking care of the ball in game-winning situations, and we need to become better defenders in those game-winning situations."
But none of that was a surprise to Holquist, who expected to deal with some growing pains this season. His Bulldogs don't start a single senior, and the third-year head coach knew going into the year that every game would be a lesson. So far though, the Bulldogs have passed most of the tests.
Surprises
"I'm pleased with our post play," said Holquist. "The last two weeks of our non-conference schedule it wasn't as good as it was to start with, but overall I'm pleased with what our post play has progressed to."
And that's key to the Bulldogs' success in the size dominated NSIC.
"Our league is such a big, strong league that our center position is going to have to be a positive for us," said Holquist.
Sixth man
Duluth Central graduate Nick Cheney has been solid for the Bulldogs off the bench this season. The freshman is averaging just over four points per contest and has given Holquist the added depth that could push UMD past its conference rivals in the season's second half.
"Cheney has really developed and emerged as a player that will be very good for us in conference situations," said Holquist. "He's very versatile. He can play off guard, small forward or power forward."
Local flavor
Saginaw native Matt Williams, a freshman, has been another positive for the Bulldogs during their opening month. The former all-state guard has settled into his role at UMD nicely, averaging 11 minutes per game, but Holquist knows that he can do more and he's excited to witness the transformation.
"He gets better every time he's out there," said Holquist. "But he needs to become better at trying to create for himself. He does a good job of creating for his teammates, and now he needs to become more of a threat himself."
Second-half expectations
"I've always had the mentality that our goal is to finish in the top four in the league," said Holquist. "If we finish in the top four we get a home playoff birth, and that's what we shoot for."
But Holquist isn't selling his Bulldogs short.
"Does this team have the capability to win the conference? No question. But we need to keep improving," he said.
Disappointments
"I'm disappointed that we didn't have discovery on how to win those tight games earlier on," said Holquist. "But that's the scenario we wanted -- that we would discover how we would have to improve. Now we need to get the rewards of winning those tight games."
What's new
"Obviously, the biggest change that I've brought to the program is our mentality of transition," said Holquist. "We're averaging 80 points per game right now and that's conducive to people wanting to watch. Players in the program want to play that type of basketball, and the biggest factor is that athletes you recruit want to be recruited into a program that plays like that. That's why a guy like Sean Seaman will come to our program. I'm excited about the future."

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