By Harvey Brock/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Whoever said work isn't supposed to be fun didn't see the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team play on Friday night.
The Skylights went to work early and often and outworked Lewis-Clark State, smiling all the way to an 89-77 win. On Saturday night, the Skylights put in a more workmen effort in a win over Westminster College 72-61, completing the weekend sweep and clinching a first-round playoff game at home.
Skylights' head coach Mike Erickson told his players before the start of the game that they would have to outhustle the Warriors, if they wanted to win against a very good LC State team.
The Skylights took his advice, jumping out to an 8-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. But after a Lewis-Clark State timeout, the Warriors responded almost as quickly, hitting four three-pointers to tie the game up at 14 apiece.
The teams traded the lead 12 times the rest of the first half as neither team could mount more than a three-point lead and ended up knotted at 36 at halftime.
Senior guard Anna Bateman paced the Skylights in the first half with 12 points, all coming from three-point range and sophomore post Megan Valgardson controlled the paint, scoring 11-points before intermission.
Lewis-Clark State scored the first five points in the second half. But the Skylights responded with full-court pressure and retook the lead for good with 14 minutes left to play at 48-47.
Box Elder native Kristie Pullin hit a three-pointer coming out of a time out by the Warriors to spark the Skylights on a 10-2 run opening up an eight-point lead with nine minutes remaining.
The Warriors responded with one final run of their own, closing the gap to three points with seven minutes remaining. But LC would get no closer, as the Skylights led by dominating inside play of Valgardson, who led all players with 30 points, six rebounds, and two blocked shots, and the full-court pressure of Bateman and Pullin.
Bateman and Pullin finished 20 and 13 points, respectively, while setting a pace that eventually wore down Lewis-Clark State. The Skylights built the lead to 12-points and hit their free throws down the stretch for the first win ever over LC for Erickson.
"Everyone just gave their all," Erickson said. "No matter whichever five players were on the floor, they played hard and smiled as they did it and had fun out there."
It was simply the best performance of the season for Northern and it came when it was needed most.
"We had only 11 turnovers for the entire game, and only two in the second half," Erickson said. "We also held our own on the boards. Both were things we talked about before the game. It really was a group effort."
The Skylights also got solid efforts from Michele VanDyke, who came off the bench to score 11 points and grab eight rebounds, and Brettney Vermandel, who dished out a game-high eight assists.
Northern outrebounded LC 38-26 and forced the Warriors into 17 turnovers, while shooting a respectable 47 percent.
LC had four players in double figures led by Cami Kalbfleisch with 20 points.
The Skylights appeared to be a little spent Saturday against Westminster.
Erickson admitted his team came out flat and was actually anticipating it.
"Friday night's game was so emotional it was hard to maintain that kind of intensity," Erickson said.
The taller Griffins controlled the inside from the start, outrebounding the Skylights 19 to 15, and scoring 12-points on putbacks from Rebekah Steenblik and Shalee Fackrell to grab an early lead.
Both teams traded leads, until Bateman and Pullin pushed the Skylights ahead, scoring the final eight points of the half to lead 38-29.
The start of the second half was the opposite of the first as it was Northern's turn to control the paint.
Megan Valgardson took control of the paint in the second half and scored on a variety of moves inside. The 6-3 sophomore scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Erickson challenged Valgardson before the weekend games and again at halftime after Westminster's early success inside.
"Megan is good enough to post those kind of points and rebounds every game," Erickson said. "She has the talent and the ability to be dominant."
The Griffins made a few runs at the Skylights but could never get closer than six en route to an 11-point win.
Pullin had a solid game at point guard, scoring 14 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists. Khadiga Mohamed added 11 points for Northern.
The Skylights forced the Griffins into 25 turnovers and 36 percent shooting on the night.
Westminster was led by Fackrell's 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Steenblik added 14 points and nine rebound.
The sweep of Lewis-Clark and Westminster guarantees the Skylights a home playoff game Friday, which was one of the goals they set for themselves at the start of the season.
"Hosting a home playoff game and two wins were two of our five goals we set for ourselves." Erickson said, "Saturday's game wasn't pretty, but a win is a win and we will take it. I think this team is peaking at just the right time. We start a new season and I like our chances."
Northern will host the University of Great Falls, which with a recent streak of good play, finished sixth in the conference.
LEWIS-CLARK STATE (75)
Cami Kalbfleisch 7-13 2-3 20; BreAnna Mulvey 3-9 0-0 7; Jessica Foot 3-12 2-6 11; Ashley Baker 4-9 1-3 9; Kendra West 4-11 2-2 12; Elise de Groot 5-7 0-0 10; Elipidia Valle 1-2 2-2 4; Alicia Hazlett 1-4 0-0 2; Leah McCauley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 28-69 9-16 75.
Megan Valgardson 10-15 9-11 30; Kristie Pullin 4-9 5-7 13; Anna Bateman 6-13 2-2 20; Khadiga Mohamed 2-8 0-0 4; Brettney Vermandel 2-2 0-0 4; DeLayne Johnston 0-0 0-0 0; Jessi Reome 1-6 0-0 3; Jena Heggem 2-5 0-0 4; Michele VanDyke 4-7 3-4 11. Totals: 31-65 19-24 89.
Halftime: tied at 36. Three-point goals: LCSC 10-23 (Kalbfleisch 4-8, Mulvey 1-3, Foot 3-8, West 2-3, Hazlett 0-1), MSUN 8-20 (Valgardson 1-1, Pullin 0-1, Bateman 6-11, Mohamed 0-1, Reome 1-4, Heggem 0-2). Rebounds: LCSC 36 (West 9, Kalbfleisch 8); MSUN 38 (VanDyke 8) Assists: LSCS 16 (Mulvey 5); MSUN 24 (Vermandel 8). Turnovers: LCSC 17, MSUN 11. Total fouls: LCSC 21, MSUN 13. Fouled out - none; Technicals - none.
WESTMINSTER COLLEGE (61)
Rebekah Steenblik 6-15 2-2 14; Shalee Fackrell 6-15 3-4 15; Tara Stewart 0-4 1-2 1; Stephanie Aldred 1-3 2-2 5; Emily Johnson 4-17 1-2 10; Ava Crump 5-9 1-1 11; Angie Layton 1-1 1-2 3; Jen Barney 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 24-66 11-15 61.
Megan Valgardson 6-10 7-7 19; Kristie Pullin 6-11 1-4 14; Anna Bateman 3-9 0-1 8; Khadiga Mohamed 5-11 1-2 11; Brettney Vermandel 2-3 0-0 4; DeLayne Johnston 1-5 1-2 3; Kristal Lohse 2-2 0-0 4; Jena Heggem 1-3 0-0 3; Michele VanDyke 2-2 12-18 72. Totals: 28-59 12-18 72.