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College basketball: Anoka-Ramsey presents big test for Bluejays

WORTHINGTON — Pit four unbeaten college basketball teams against each other in a rare Sunday matinee and you’ll likely have something fun to watch.

Minnesota West Community and Technical College’s basketball teams —both unbeaten on the year in their respective divisions —will host an equally stout pair of teams from Anoka-Ramsey. The womens game begins at 1 p.m. with the men set to start at 3 p.m.

The A-R women (12-3 overall, 2-0 in Minnesota College Athletic Conference Southern Division) are currently ranked third in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s weekly poll while the men, 13-3 overall and 2-0 in the division, are rated seventh.

Both Minnesota West teams appear equally as rugged as the Golden Rams. Head coach Justin Heckenlaible’s men’s team has pieced together a 12-4 record to date and are 3-0 in the division. The women, led by head coach Mike Fury, are 13-3 on their tour and 3-0 in divisional play.

The Bluejay men will be charged with the task of defending Golden Rams freshman Joey Weldon. A 6-6 forward from St. Paul, Weldon was named the MCAC Southern Division Player of the Week, posting an average of 20.5 points per game and 15 rebounds per game. He has 4.5 steals and a couple of assists per outing.

Running the show for A-R at point guard is Trent Pollard. Pollard, a 5-10 freshman, has also been heralded as the Player of the Week on more than one occasion. He entered the week averaging 20.2 points per game and had a division-high 49 three-pointers so far.

While the Golden Rams were defeated in a double overtime thriller to St. Cloud Wednesday night, 93-92 on their home floor, they remain one of the toughest teams the Bluejays will face all year, Heckenlaible explained.

“Anoka-Ramsey is currently ranked seventh in the country so, for us, it is about protecting our home court,” the coach said Thursday of Sunday’s contest. “It is a big game for us and for them. It’s hard to win on the road in our league.

“Pollard will drive to the basket but they have a couple of other kids who can shoot. Weldon is kind of the X-factor and few teams have been able to slow him down.”

The Lady Jays, on the other hand, will have a stiff test in handling A-R’s Olivia Antilla, a Co-Player of the Week for the MCAC’s Southern Division with West forward Tiffany Gehl. Antilla has racked up 23.3 ppg and 10.7 rpg. Gehl (22.3 ppg), from Fulda, has continually been a key cog in the Jays’ wheel as they have had no shortage of offensive production themselves.

Defensively, things have also steadily improved, Fury said.

“After last night at Ridgewater, I thought we played really well, really hard defensively,” Fury said Thursday. “Offensively, we’ve played well all year but last night we stepped it up defensively. That was really good to see. We’re improving on that end and have rebounded well, too.”

Anoka-Ramsey’s game plan will start with its defense. The Golden Rams are coached by Dave DeWitt, a former teammate of Fury’s from Hamilton College in St. Paul.

“They’re always tough defensively and you have to take care of the ball. That has been one of their strengths forever,” Fury said of A-R. “Dave and I have known each other for a long time. As things have worked out, I have been here for a long time and Dave has been there for eight years or something. It adds a little flavor to it and it is fun.”

The winner of Sunday’s women’s game will remain perfect in the division and the loser will join the ranks of teams with one loss.

“Hopefully we can do things to make ourselves successful,” Fury explained. “We’ll have to play good defense and hopefully we shoot pretty well.”