By Ryan Divish
It was sometime after its Canadian road trip that Montana State University-Northern coach Mike Erickson believes his team underwent an attitude change.
The Skylights, who are currently atop the Frontier with a 7-1 record, went from thinking they could win, to knowing they would win.
It's with that attitude that Northern heads into this weekend's road trip in which they will face Montana Tech tonight and UM-Western on Saturday.
Since the Skylights' attitude adjustment, Northern has lost just twice, once to Western on that Canadian trip and a 69-54 loss at home to Lewis-Clark State.
Northern did get a bit of revenge by handing Western its first conference loss on the season, 86-84.
The Skylights can win the rubber match on Saturday, but first they must defeat a Montana Tech team that they throttled 90-62 on Jan. 18.
"Both Montana Tech and Western are very similar in what they run," Erickson said. "They use a lot of the same post action."
Tech and Western are also similar in that they both are susceptible to full-court pressure.
It certainly worked for the first time as Northern forced both teams into a combined 60 turnovers on the weekend. Obviously, Erickson expects both teams to be ready for the pressure, but that doesn't mean he's going to abandon it.
"We're going to play our game and stay poised," Erickson said. "We know we have to run at least for the last 10 minutes of the game. I want to see the other girls tongues hanging out they're so tired."
Tech, 3-6 in conference and 6-20 overall, is led by junior forward Melissa Ritter and senior guard Stacy Ferentchak.
Ritter can score from a variety of ways inside while Ferentchak is Tech's biggest outside threat.
Tech is capable of winning at home as evidenced by 79-66 victory over a solid Rocky Mountain College team on Feb. 2.
While Tech would like nothing better than to knock off the Skylights, the UM-Western Bulldogs are looking for vindication.
Erickson admitted Western will be more than a little fired up to see his team.
"We know we will have to play one of our best games to beat them on their home floor," Erickson said. "Our goals have played up to teams' levels all season."
The Bulldogs, who sit right behind Northern in the Frontier with a 7-2 record, are led by All-American forward Bobbi Suhr, who is second in the conference in scoring, but no doubtedly leads the conference in important baskets made.
If there is a key basket that must be made, Western doesn't hesitate to go to Suhr. The Bulldogs also get solid production from 6-3 center Jill Feller and three-point shooter Vanika Dickerson.
After committing 30 turnovers against the Skylights' pressure, Western will be much more prepared to break the press.
But Erickson and his team aren't going to change anything for these games.
"We have to perfect the things we have in (the offense)," Erickson said. "We aren't going to add anything really new. People are going to have to get used to playing an up-tempo, full-court game when they play us."
Men looking for season sweep
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Montana State University-Northern men's basketball coach Shawn Huse as he leads the Lights into Butte to take on his alma mater Montana Tech tonight at the HPER complex.
Huse, who was an all-conference player and conference MVP during his playing days at Tech, won't be there to relive any past glories. Rather, he will try to lead the Lights to a season sweep of the Orediggers as well as a sweep over UM-Western a night later in Dillon.
It won't be easy, as it's never easy to win on the road in the Frontier Conference.
"We will probably to have be a 5-10 points better since we are playing on the road," Huse said.
Northern, 5-3 in the conference and 18-8 overall, defeated Western 73-60 on Jan. 17 and Tech 91-74 a night later.
Despite the decisiveness of the wins, Huse knows beating a team twice in a season is very difficult. The Lights certainly won't be looking past either team.
"Our guys know better than to take anything for granted," Huse said.
Tech, 2-7 in conference and 10-17 overall, kept things close in Havre for the first half, before Northern's quickness on both offense and defense took over.
Still, the Diggers are quite capable of putting points on the board. The guard duo of Shane Sutton and Jeremy Rudolph might not be the biggest in the conference, but they can shoot the ball. They combine to average 23 points and have a total 75 three-pointers between the two of them.
The Diggers biggest problems come defensively. In Havre, the guard trio of Larry and Lamar Morinia and Zach McLean combined for 36 points and 11 assists. McLean, however, may not be available for tonight's game.
The sophomore guard was still experiencing pain his knee after banging it off another player in the Lights' last game. He will have it checked by a doctor in Butte today and his status is questionable.
Northern will face an equally tough task against Western in Dillon on Saturday night. Western more than likely will take the air out of the basketball. In their game with Northern in Havre, former Lights assistant and current Bulldog head coach Mark Durham had his players milk the shot clock and slow the pace of play down to a crawl.
With two of his best players done for the year with injury, the depleted Bulldogs have been forced into this style to be successful.
"They had success with it against us in Havre," Huse said. "Coach Durham is pretty unpredictable, but I suspect we'll see the same thing."
Western, winless in conference at 0-9 and 7-17 overall, is a dangerous team because they are playing with nothing to lose. Forward Brandon Day leads Western in scoring (15.1 ppg) and rebounding (6.5 rpg). Although the Bulldogs don't have another player averaging in double figures, they do have five other players averaging in the 7-9 point per game range.
Northern will tip off both nights at 6 and 8 p.m. and the games can be heard on