By George Ferguson
All season long, the Havre High boys basketball team has faced a rigorous schedule of Class AA, A and B opponents. Nothing will change as the Ponies continue their tough schedule continues and the 2002-2003 winds towards the Central A divisional tournament in Belgrade.
The Blue Ponies will look for a little redemption when they travel to Malta tonight while on Friday night, Havre will play its fifth game of the season against a defending state champion when they host Central A conference foe Browning.
The Ponies carry a 6-7 record into the pair of weekend matchups and with just three weeks left in the regular season, Havre head coach Mark West is fully aware of the implications of each game.
"I wouldn't say these games are must-win games," West said. "Of course we want to win and wins are huge right now, but what is more important right now is that we play the best basketball we're capable of. We need to capitalize on what we did against Lewistown and continue to improve on that momentum."
Tonight, the Ponies travel east to Malta to take on a very solid Malta team, Despite their 6-8 record, the Mustangs have a victory over the Ponies to their credit.
At the beginning of the month, Malta stormed into Havre High gymnasium and shot the lights out in the first quarter en route to a 63-52 win.
While the Mustangs couldn't miss in the first meeting with Havre, the Ponies couldn't buy a bucket in the first period as they went scoreless for almost five minutes of play.
West knows that his team's shooting woes are hopefully behind them.
"We obviously have to shoot the ball better this time around," West said. "I am just hoping that the way we played against Lewistown will carry over."
"The other thing about the first game is that I thought we defended Malta very well," West continued. "They just started off so hot and there was nothing we could do. Hopefully that won't happen again."
One thing that might have favored Havre is the Mustangs lack of size inside. But Havre center Ryan Lusin - who is coming off of a season-high 21 points on Saturday night - suffered a mild ankle sprain earlier this week in practice and his status for tonight's contest is questionable.
"If we have Ryan, I think we can exploit Malta inside," West said. "But without him, that advantage isn't as great."
On Friday night, Havre will host the Browning Indians on senior night at the Havre High Gymnasium. Havre will honor seniors Justin Kegel, Steve Heberly, Curt Leeds, Eric Ward and Ryan Lusin.
The Indians are currently ranked third in latest Class A power poll and bring a 10-3 record into Havre. Browning sits atop the Central A standings by two games over Lewistown and Belgrade.
Browning, the two-time defending Class A state champion, plays much the same way it did last season. However, they do appear to be less physical without the services of four-time all-stater Mike Chavez and miss the leadership of graduated point guard Leo Bullchild, who is redshirting for MSU-Northern.
"They (Browning) are fast and athletic, but they aren't very physical," West said. "We know they are going to put up quick shots and try to get out in transition. They will also bring a lot of pressure on the defensive end."
The Indians boast several qualities shooters in Kellen Hall, Thunder Harris, Ron Gilham and Ryan Running Crane.
It is unknown whether or not the Indians' top scorer from earlier in the season, Alvin Yellow Owl, will play. He has missed the Indians last four games for undisclosed reasons.
"They have a lot of really talented athletic kids," West said. "But the tough thing is that every time they play, they have different lineups and they run a lot of different sets. So that has made them very tough to scout and prepare for."
"We are just going to have to be ready for whatever they bring and hope that we can continue to play solid basketball," West added.
Tonight's game between Havre and Malta is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Malta High gymnasium. Friday night's contest between Browning and Havre will also tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High Gymnasium. Both games can be heard on 610 KOJM-AM.