By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Paralysis by analysis. It sounds like something that plagues computer geeks or math nerds. But it can also affect basketball teams too.
Just ask Montana State University-Northern men's basketball coach Shawn Huse, who isn't about to let his team get paralyzed by worrying about where it sits in the conference standings. Instead, he wants his team to focus on its only game this weekend, against the University of Great Falls in Great Falls on Saturday night.
"You can't sit and analyze the standings and everyone's win-loss records or you'll get run over," Huse said. "We've been preaching to them all year about not getting too high after wins and not too low after losses. The standings are going to change from week to week with the parity that's in this league."
As the Lights begin the second half of the conference season, records begin to matter somewhat. First and foremost, Northern would like to host a first-round Frontier Conference playoff game, and to do that it's going to take some wins in the final seven conference games.
Currently, the Lights are on the outside looking in to be one of the four teams to host first-round games with a 3-4 record. Northern is in fifth place, a game behind Carroll College and UM-Western. But the Lights are primed to add to their win total against the last-place Argos.
Northern defeated the Argos 88-70 on Jan. 10 in Havre. Since then UGF has struggled, losing every one of its conference games and falling to 5-16 on the season.
Still, if one thing has been proven early in the conference season, it's that any team can beat another on any given night.
Despite the earlier win, Huse isn't about to let his team overlook UGF on Saturday.
"We aren't in a position to overlook anybody," Huse said. "We weren't picked to finish much higher than UGF, and they played us pretty tough earlier this year. They have to be thinking this is a game they can win."
The Argos played Northern more than tough for about 32 minutes of their last meeting. Using an intense, energized defense and an offense that slowed the game to a snail's pace, UGF stayed within three points of the Lights until late in the game, when Northern finally put the Argos away.
"We didn't play our best basketball in the first meeting," Huse said. "We started off sluggish offensively in the first half, but I thought we really played better down the stretch and did what it takes to win."
UGF hasn't changed its philosophy since the first meeting. The Argos are still very quick and very undersized, and still want to keep the score of the game way down. Great Falls is last in the conference in scoring average at 69.6 points per game, while Northern is leading the Frontier at 93 points per game.
It's a contrast of styles that the Lights ultimately won by forcing UGF into some late turnovers and getting easy points in transition. Huse hopes to do the same thing again. One thing is for certain: Since this is the second meeting, both teams have a pretty good idea of what the other wants to do.
"Everybody has the same advantages and disadvantages of having played each other once," Huse said. "It really comes down to execution on offense and defense. Since we're on the road we have to be that much better."
The reason UGF wants to keep the game in the 60s is because it's not that strong offensively. The Argos play about seven players and look to three or four for the bulk of their offensive production.
Point guard James Edwards leads the Argos in scoring at 13.4 points per game while dishing out 2.6 assists per game. Forward Anthony Owens chips in with just under 12 points a game and leads the Frontier in rebounding at 7.5 boards per game. Fellow forward Rico Suazo averages nine points and seven rebounds a game.
"They're a very athletic team and they have quick leapers, which is why they rebound," Huse said. "We gave up some second-chance points last time. We can't do that again."
As usual, Northern will rely on the offense of Larry and Lamar Morinia. Larry is second in the Frontier in scoring at 20.7 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Lamar is fifth in the conference in scoring at 16.3 points per game while dishing out 3.5 assists per game.
Forward Dustin Sawejka has been solid off the bench, averaging 14.5 points per game, while center Trenton Harbaugh is second in the conference in rebounding at 7.1 boards per game.
With the season winding down and wins becoming more important with each game, Huse still isn't ready to place any more pressure on his players.
"We've played in enough pressure games already this season and don't fear anything," Huse said. "We just need to stay aggressive, focus on playing good defense and, eventually, everything is going to click in a game. Good things will happen if they just keeping playing hard."
Northern and UGF tip off at 8 p.m. and can be heard on 92.5 KPQX-FM.