Nate Wolters is on a bus in the middle of the desert, somewhere between Las Vegas and Cedar City, Utah, a few dusty roads between his last game and his next, completely unaware that this is how one of the country's best scorers travels.
"Oh, I didn't even know I was seventh," Wolters said, sounding almost embarrassed. "It's a nice little accomplishment ... I focus more on wins and losses. Points per game is not a big deal. It's just kind of, you do what you've got to do."
What Wolters has done, exactly, is push South Dakota State into basketball relevance. The former St. Cloud Tech standout is scoring 21.5 points a game, good now for fifth-best in Division I entering the weekend, two spots better than when he was reached by phone earlier in the week. The 6-4 junior guard might not have realized just how he has contributed statistically, but he earned the attention of many basketball observers after taking over a game against Washington three weeks ago.
Three days after a tough December loss at North Dakota State, the Jackrabbits traveled to Seattle. Wolters responded with a career game that hoisted SDSU over Washington -- only the third victory over a BCS conference team in school history. His 34-point breakout performance lifted Wolters into the country's top 10 scoring leaders and sparked the team -- which is 13-4 -- to a four-game winning streak heading into Saturday's game against Oral Roberts, which, like South Dakota State, is 5-0 in Summit League play.
"I think we all wanted to come out and show everyone that we were a better team than we had shown a couple of days earlier," he said. "I don't think anybody likes to lose at all, but it's always best when you have games right away so you can kind of forget about it and get back at it the next day."
Perhaps Wolters' own accomplishments have slipped by him because he's so caught up in the team dynamic. After going 14-16 in his freshman year, the Jackrabbits improved to 19-12 last season, and Wolters has been a big part of helping SDSU gain steam as a program after moving up to Division I seven years ago.
Despite his obvious talent and scoring ability -- graduating from St. Cloud Tech as the school's all-time leading scorer after taking the team to third-place finishes in the Class 4A state tournament in his junior and senior seasons -- it "never even occurred" to Wolters to dream of playing for the Gophers. These days, it's probably occurred to shorthanded Gophers coach Tubby Smith, who watched Wolters score 20 points and dominate stretches before the Gophers beat SDSU in early November. The Gophers weren't alone in their inability to guard Wolters. He has scored at least 20 points in seven games this season and at least 30 in three.
"He really schooled us pretty good," Smith said. "Nobody could really guard him there for a while."