North Dakota State College of Science carries a big bull's-eye in the form of a No. 19 national ranking on its back.
So far, nobody in the Mon-Dak conference has been able to knock it off.
The Wildcats remained undefeated in conference play (9-0) with a 71-59 win over the Bismarck State College women's basketball team on Thursday night at the Armory.
"Our team understands when we come into a building the other team is going to be ready and that's great," NDSCS coach Thomas Dryburgh said. "That's a challenge we have to be able to meet every game and I think our kids embrace that part of it."
A third-quarter spurt proved to be the difference for the 23-2 Wildcats.
"I think the third quarter was pretty indicative of the type of team we are when we're playing well," Dryburgh said. "Other than the third quarter, I didn't think we were particularly sharp on either end of the floor. We haven't been playing very well on the road lately, but to be able to come in here and get a win over a quality opponent certainly is a positive for us."
The Wildcats seemed to ride a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Lauren Johnson at the halftime horn. Prior to the off-balanced, awkward-looking shot, BSC led 30-29.
An 11-3 run early in the third period turned a tie game (32-all) into a 46-37 NDSCS edge.
"There seems to be one quarter every game where we struggle, where the other team seems to figure us out and we get stuck a little bit," BSC coach Marv Pedersen said. "Other than third quarter, I thought we did a lot of really good things."
The Mystics scored nine of the first 11 points of the game with a 3-pointer from Hannah Hanson making it 9-2 early. The lead changed hands 11 times in the opening half.
"The first half was really good. We were right there with them. We just hit kind of a lull in the third quarter," Pedersen said. "They're a good team. You have to play four full quarters against them. They're 9-0 for a reason."
The Wildcats lost their season opener way back in November. Their only other loss came in non-conference play in early December. They're 12-0 since.
NDSCS features a deep and balanced attack. Nine players scored against the Mystics. Mina Porte's 15 points led the way. Two others were in double figures -- Dayuna Johnson (12) and Abby Johnson (10).
"Not a lot of teams in our league can actually build a lead with their second unit and that's what we were able to do in that third quarter," Dryburgh said. "Once we're able to get to the fourth quarter we feel like we're strong enough defensively to close out games for the most part."
The Mystics (5-4, 13-10) had three players in double figures led by Jaycee Walter's 14 points. Hannah Hanson and Faith Dionne added 13 each.
"Our kids are very competitive and they're very disappointed because we lost the game," Pederson said. "We just challenged them to keep getting better, to keep working hard, and I think they will."
Up next for the Mystics is crosstown rival United Tribes on Thursday, Feb. 15.