By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
You don't get any better beating up on weak teams. That's the philosophy of Montana State University-Northern women's coach Mike Erickson.
For the second straight weekend, the Skylights will face some very solid competition at the Montana National Guard Classic starting tonight at the Carroll College P.E. Center in Helena.
Northern will take on a very good Dickinson State University squad tonight at 6 p.m.
"They ended up with a great season last year and they have just about everybody back," Erickson said.
The Bluehawks finished last season second in the DAC-10 conference with a 20-9 record overall.
"They're a very good team," Erickson said. "They play extremely aggressive basketball on both ends of the court."
DSU is led by all-conference guard Sara Berglund, who averaged 12.8 points per game last season. Berglund is a deadly outside shooter having made 80 three-pointers last season, while still dishing out 81 assists and picking 42 steals.
"She's a great shooter and we need to know where she is at at all times," Erickson said. "We can't give her wide open looks."
The Bluehawks also have very good size and athleticism. Sophomores Dana Johnson and Stacey Milanovich stand right around 5-10, but play at an up-tempo.
"Their big girls like to get out and run the floor and finish in transition," Erickson said.
With the aggressive DSU offense, Erickson is looking for an improved effort on the defensive end from his players.
"Defensively, we have to get better," he said. "We're very offensive oriented, but we're not as aggressive as need to be defensively."
Erickson has chosen to stay with man-to-man defense early on, trying to make that serviceable before switching over to his zone defense.
"We need to be able to prove we can play man first," he said. "We've worked on our full-court pressure, but we haven't used it much."
Offensively, Northern must be prepared for Dickinson's physical defensive pressure.
"They get into you on defense," Erickson said. "They play physical and intense and want to force you into turnovers."
For the most part, Northern has been very good handling the basketball for so early in the season. The Skylights committed minimal turnovers in three games last week. It must continue this week.
"We have to continue to take care of the ball," Erickson said. "We've done a pretty good job so far. But Dickinson's pressure is tough."
Northern will try to use its size advantage up front with centers Megan Valgardson and Ashley Trulock and forwards DeLayne Johnston and Michele VanDyke.
"Our inside game is our most consistent aspect," Erickson said. "Their mindset has to be working the ball into the post because it will open things up for us."
Erickson is still trying to find the right combinations and rotations to use with his plethora of guards. Starters Camille Gardner and Jaci Heny have already logged heavy minutes in the first three games and Erickson knows that must change.
"The way Camille and Jaci play, we have to get some more minutes from our other guards," Erickson said. "They are diving on the floor a lot and they'll get beat up playing that many minutes."
The Skylights' reserve guards all bring different qualities and talents, it's just a matter of getting the right combination out there.
"It's been tough to find the right combination of offense and defense and who plays best with whom," Erickson said. "But this is what the preseason is for."
On Saturday, Northern will play probably its easiest game of its nonconference schedule when it takes on Albertson College at 6 p.m.
"They had a down year last year, but have brought in some recruits," Erickson said. "Still, we have a bad habit of playing down to our opponent's level."
While he is worried about the opposition, Erickson's biggest concern this early in the season is how his team is doing.
"We need to perfect what we want to do and not worry so much about the other team," he said. "We have long ways to go and a lot of growing to do, but I still expect us to go out and be competitive and play hard every night. If we do that, we'll be in every game."