By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
Looking back, it was probably unrealistic that Assem Marei would be an instant star at Minnesota State and in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Consider that the 6-foot-9 center was a transfer from another country, learning how to play American basketball with different rules and new teammates.
“He’s starting to get comfortable,” Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said. “He’s getting used to a different lane and a shot clock and playing against guys that are smaller than him. He’d rather play against big guys so he can lean on them and bang in the post.”
The Mavericks (15-1, 11-1 in Northern Sun) are on a nine-game winning streak, elevating to No. 7 in the national poll, heading into this weekend’s home games with Wayne State (12-6, 6-6) at 8 p.m. today and Augustana (12-4, 8-4) at 6 p.m. Saturday.
A big reason that the Mavericks were able to sweep three road games last week was the play of Marei. In the last four games, he’s averaged 18.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, raising his season totals to 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds. For the season, he’s shooting 53.3 percent from the field and has 24 blocked shots in 16 games.
“His confidence continues to grow, on the offensive and defensive end,” Margenthaler said. “He’s such a presence on the court, and he’s trusting his teammates more. The team is playing better together.”
The Mavericks have a one-game lead over Winona State in the South Division.
Minnesota State women
The Mavericks are ranked second in the Northern Sun and ninth in Division II for scoring at 77.8 points per game. The Mavericks, who are 7-0 at home, average 80 points at Bresnan Arena.
Junior Ali Wilkinson has 25 double-doubles in 73 career games, with five this season. Backup guard Ashley Olson scored 25 points in the two games last weekend, making 7 of 9 from 3-point range. She leads the team with 26 3-pointers, two more than Aubrey Davis.
Backup center Lexie Ulfers is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. She was averaging 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds.
It’s a big Saturday for both Gustavus teams, as the women host St. Benedict at 3 p.m.. and the men travel to Collegeville to take on St. John’s.
The women (12-5, 13-4) are in a four-way tie for second in the MIAC — a game behind Concordia — with St. Benedict, St. Mary’s and St. Thomas. In the conference tournament, the top two teams get bye, while the third- and fourth-place teams get home games in the first round. The Gusties defeated St. Benedict 64-61 on Dec. 1.
The men (10-8, 7-6), who have lost two straight, and St. John’s are in a three-way tie for fifth in the MIAC, meaning one of those teams could likely fall out of postseason contention. Gustavus lost to St. John’s 69-65 at home Dec. 1.
The men’s team (6-9, 4-1) has won three straight heading into home games with Crown tonight and Minnesota-Morris on Saturday. The Vikings are outscoring opponents, 71.7 points to 70.2 points per game, and outrebounding teams by 1.2 per game. Bethany is outscoring opponents 572-535 in the second half of games. The Vikings have used the same starting five in every game.
The women’s team (4-12, 2-3) has split the last six games. Kasslin Swenson is averaging 11.4 points over the last five games, boosting her season total to 9.9 points per game. Briana Brandts has scored at least 10 points in seven of the last eight games. She leads the team with 29 steals.