Senior forward Alex Welhouse looks at UNO’s difficult final week of the season in much the same way he approached the program’s transition to Division I.
“I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Welhouse said. “You want to play the best competition and see how you stack up.”
Two days after seeing South Dakota State clinch a share of the Summit League championship with a 100-82 win at Ralston Arena, the Mavericks face North Dakota State — the Summit’s third-place team which carries a top-100 RPI — in a 4 p.m. home game.
It’s Senior Day for Welhouse and backup guards Jacques Coleman and Tyler Egli.
“I can’t lie, it’s going to be pretty sad because I spent half a decade here,” said Welhouse, who redshirted in 2008-09, played sparingly the following year, then started the past 2½ seasons. “You’re moving on to another part of your life, but you’re moving away from the family you’ve been with for the past five years.”
Welhouse, a 6-foot-7 player who combines long-range shooting accuracy with his work as the team’s best rebounder, enters his final game for the University of Nebraska at Omaha with 802 career points and 453 career rebounds. The Kaukauna, Wis., native is ninth in school history with 150 career 3s, shooting them with 39.9 percent accuracy.
After averaging 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds last year, Welhouse is averaging 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds this season in an offense that increasingly centers around the talented Justin Simmons.
“He’s been here five years and he’s done a lot for us,” Mav coach Derrin Hansen said. “He’s been one of our mainstays in the move to Division I. He’s been great on and off the floor.”
While some pity UNO players who came into the program competing for league championships in Division II’s Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and are now ineligible for league titles while in transition, that’s not the way Welhouse sees it.
“It’s been great for UNO athletics,” Welhouse said. “And it’s great playing against the best competition in the country. Every high school player’s dream is to play Division I and getting that chance, even for two years, I can’t be more thankful.”
Coleman, a 5-11 point guard from Milwaukee, joined the program last season from Ellsworth (Iowa) Community College and has appeared in 24 of 30 games this year while averaging 2.3 points.
Egli, a 6-4 guard from Ankeny, Iowa, who started his career at Division II North Carolina-Pembroke, has appeared in 22 games while averaging 1.3 points.
“Sometimes you’re involved with a basketball team and you don’t always get to receive the fruits of your labor,” Hansen said. “Those guys have worked at it, and I appreciate the way they’ve conducted themselves.”
Picked to finish last in the nine-team Summit in their first year in the league, the Mavs have come close to maximizing their win potential while going 11-19 and a surprising 6-9 in league games, good for a tie for fifth place.
In North Dakota State (21-8, 11-4), UNO is facing one of the league’s elite. Center Marshall Bjorklund is among the national leaders in field goal percentage (.667), Lawrence Alexander is among the Summit’s best point guards, and backup Mike Felt is a long-range marksman.
But the Bison just got their best player back earlier this week in wing Taylor Braun, a 6-7 junior. Braun missed 10 games with a foot injury: NDSU is 16-3 with him and 5-5 without him.
Braun, averaging 14.4 points, has connected on 47.2 percent (34 of 72) from 3-point range. He was 7 for 9 from 3 while scoring 26 points in a 95-51 win against UNO in Fargo on Nov. 29.
Welhouse said he doesn’t want to wonder what next weekend might have looked like, had UNO been heading into the Summit tournament as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
“That would be awesome,” Welhouse said. “In March, anybody can be beaten. Our team can score on anybody. If we play disciplined on defense and rebound, we can play with anybody. If we got hot in March, you never know.”