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Cougars host Bethany, Martin Luther this weekend

MORRIS -- We're just into mid January, but the upcoming weekend is easily the biggest yet for the Minnesota Morris men's and women's basketball teams.

Each host Bethany Lutheran and Martin Luther on Friday (Jan. 20) and Saturday (Jan. 21) respectively, with Friday boasting a pair of games with first place in the young UMAC season on the line.

"These are huge games," men's team junior Logan Orazem said. "Since we beat Northwestern and Crown on the road, we've set ourselves up. Bethany's 3-0, we get them at home, and if we beat them, we'll be tied for first in the conference.  So these are huge games."

The Cougar men enter at 2-1 in Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) play, and host 3-0 Bethany Lutheran Friday. Just before that, though, the Cougar women put their 3-0 league record on the line against a 2-1 Bethany Lutheran squad, and they are equally aware of their road ahead.

"We're just trying to get everything we can in about the teams," junior Emily Mehr said. "We're looking at what the teams do, what kind of personnel they have, just working hard because we know it's going to be a tough weekend."

The women ripped through the UMAC last season, on their way to a 14-0 conference record and their second consecutive UMAC title. They swept both games with the Vikings, including overcoming an early eight-point deficit in their second meeting to move to 10-0 in the conference.

The familiarity and recent success helps, but the players know that this is a new season.

"We're working really hard in practice, and we're just trying to concentrate on what they're strengths are, like Bethany had two really great posts, that can work inside and outside," sophomore Abby Fragodt said. "It helps (knowing the opponent), but you just have to think of each game as a new game. I can't remember all the girls that well, but looking back at film it sparks your memory a little bit, but I just look at each game as a new challenge."

The men are in a similar position as a year ago - sitting at 2-1 and taking on a 3-0 Viking squad - but this season get to tackle the challenge at home. Last season the Cougars outscored the Vikings by 15 in the second half to overcome a three-point halftime deficit, and move themselves into first place. That experience, as well as last weekend's road sweep gives the Cougars confidence heading into the weekend.

"To realize that if we do get down, we can come back and beat a team," Orazem said. "Crown this year, they are surprising people, so we got down with them early, but we found it within ourselves to fight back, focus and get a win on the road. Road wins are never easy in the UMAC."

But even with magnitude of the games being so big, so early, the Cougars aren't stressing or making it too big, and keeping their focus as they would any game this time of year.

"It's just business," Fragodt said." "You got to get down to it and work hard every practice, no matter if we're playing an easier team, or if you're playing the best team in the UMAC."

"It's just having a mindset that you have to go out and start every game," Mehr said. "Every play matters and having that intensity all the time, just working hard."

The hard work begins with the women at 5:30 on Friday night, with the men following right after.

Note: Friday night will be a White Out in the P.E. Center, and Saturday will be a Gold Out.