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Winkelman, Bison left nothing on court

laying for a virtual unknown team in their first trip ever to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, you'd think hitting a double-double against the defending national champion would raise some eyebrows.

Instead, Brett Winkelman's name has hardly been mentioned in stories across the nation as most of the media focused on the exploits of Ben Woodside and his game-high 37 points. Sure, North Dakota State lost in the first round on March 20. They were supposed to. They drew Kansas, the No. 3 seed out of the Midwest Regional that took home the top prize at the Big Dance last year.

But the Bison, eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time since making the jump to Division I five years ago, hung tough the entire way and didn't allow the Jayhawks to get comfortable until the waning moments of the game, eventually falling 84-74. NDSU trailed by as many as 11 points and could have easily stepped on each other's feet as most underdogs seem to do in the dance each year. But Woodside kept driving and scoring, pulling up and scoring, camping at the free-throw line and scoring.

Television announcer Gary Campbell compared Woodside to Phoenix Suns sensation Steve Nash. The way Woodside was playing this day was almost a slap in his face to compare him to anyone.

As for Winkelman, a former standout for Morris Area High School, he went virtually unnoticed in the game despite being second on the NDSU team with 15 points, hitting 3-of-4 shots from three-point range, pulling down a team-high 12 rebounds, threading three assists and finishing with only one turnover. Winkelman and Woodside played all 40 minutes. And Winkelman and Kansas center Cole Aldrich (23 points, 13 rebounds) were the only players to notch a double-double. Alrdich, too, was singled out for his strong performance. But Winkleman's name was mostly mentioned by the print media as a quote on how good Woodside was or how well Aldrich dominated inside.

"I'm fine with it," said Winkelman, who broke the NDSU career rebounding record in the Kansas game. He also finished his career as the second all-time leading scorer (behind Woodside) at NDSU.

"Ben had a great game and we wouldn't be here without him," said Winkelman. "I just do what they need me to do. There were some nights when they needed me to do the scoring and I had some big games. This night, they needed me to do other things besides score and I think I did."

Winkelman, the Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winner in 2004 for outstanding male athlete in the area, has always had his eye on the next level. He wants to play in the NBA, just like any other college player. He doesn't want his career finished. He would gladly play in the CBA or even overseas as long as he can keep making his shoes squeak out on the court.

Many of the NDSU players were fifth-year seniors, an intentional move so they would have one chance to play in the NCAA tournament. They have no regrets despite the loss. They know they played hard and left nothing on the court.

"We really felt we could play with anyone," said Winkelman. "I read somewhere that the Kansas coach (Bill Self) said it was one of the best games they had played this year. We feel good that it took the defending champs to play one of their best games to beat us. We feel if we played Kansas 10 times, we would win five. You never want to lose, but we ended on a good note in that we played well and showed people we belonged there. I have no regrets other than I wish we had won."

This is a loss that will dissipate quickly because the team fought all the way. What wasn't expected was for the Bison to even get to play in the NCAA tournament. The NIT? Yes. The NCAA? No. But the Bison earned an automatic berth after winning the Summit League tournament.

"It was a dream come true," said Winkelman. "It was a goal of ours several years ago and we fulfilled that goal. To get to play in Minnesota in front of so many Bison fans ... well, it's hard to put into words."

Sometimes silence speaks volumes.