By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Two weeks ago the Havre High boys basketball team was fatigued, a little banged up and battling the flu bug that seems to have infected half of the civilized world. But the Ponies managed to get through a rigorous portion of their schedule with a 5-2 record, and according to Havre head coach Mark West, the Christmas break has been just what the doctor ordered.
"We played a stretch of seven tough games in less than three weeks," West said. "By the end of it we were tired and not feeling very good. I also don't think we played our best basketball during that stretch, so we are feeling pretty good about where we're at right now."
Where the Ponies are right now is rested and recharged and ready to march through the rest of the regular season in hopes of defending their 2003 Central A regular season championship.
The march will begin tonight when the Ponies travel to Central A rival Browning to face the Indians at 7:30 p.m. Havre will return home on Saturday night to host District 2B rival Malta.
"I think that we got rested and healthy over the Christmas break," West said. "We needed that time to get our legs back and get some kids over some illness. We have also had a couple of really good practices since we came back, so I like where we are at for these two games."
Tonight's contest with Browning (4-3) will be a quick test for West's troops to see how they actually come out of the 10-day layoff. The Indians have had their ups and downs this season. They opened their schedule with a surprising loss to Western A foe Whitefish and then split a pair of games at the Central A tipoff tournament. Since that time Browning has gone 3-1 against a host of Class B schools leading up to the Christmas break.
Browning came into the 2003-2004 season as somewhat of an unknown because they lost a their two leading scorers in graduated seniors Kellen Hall and Nathan Yellow Owl. Hall is now a redshirt freshman at MSU-Northern. However, the Indians return a solid nucleus of players led by Karl Ingraham and swingman Ryan Running Crane. Transfer Andrew Sellers is also averaging in double figures for the highest scoring team in Class A basketball.
"When you look at them it seems like Browning is a little down this year," West said. "But Ingraham and Running Crane are solid players and they are still scoring a lot of points.
"We expect Browning to play a very up-tempo style against us on both ends of the floor and they will try to score off of our mistakes. It is also always a big challenge to go there and try to win on their home floor. Browning always plays us tough at home so we know that we have a big test ahead of us on Friday night."
Saturday night the Ponies will return to Havre and welcome a Malta Mustang team that is also somewhat unknown to West. The Mustangs have picked up a couple of quality wins this season, including a one-point win over Lewistown three weeks ago. However, the Mustangs are a young team and West believes that his team matches up well with Malta.
"I think that Malta isn't quite as talented and deep as they have been in the past," West said. "They are young and a little inexperienced, but they have a great player in Bo Stiles and I know they will give us a very tough game on Saturday night."
Stiles is the leading scorer for the Mustangs thus far this season. John Galt is also averaging in double figures this season. But despite the Mustangs' lack of experience and depth, West knows all too well what can happen when a Malta team comes to Havre. The Mustangs stunned the Ponies in Havre last season, and Havre rebounded to knock off Malta on its home floor later in the season.
"We expect Malta to play very hard and the game will be intense," West said. "They (Malta) seem to always get excited about coming to Havre to play us. We have to be ready to match their intensity early on."
Another trend that West will be looking for his team to stop is getting out-rebounded. The Ponies were dismal in that category in almost every game they played thus far, with the exception of their last game against Lewistown. If the Ponies are to make a serious run into the post season, West said his team will have to make immediate improvement in that area.
"I am hoping to see us get better game by game starting in Browning," West said. "If we are going to be a good basketball team this season, we have to be physical and we have to rebound the ball better."
Tonight's game between Browning and Havre will tipoff at 7:30 p.m. in Browning. Saturday's matchup between Havre and Malta will also tipoff at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium.