By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
GREAT FALLS - Handling the pressure of the up-tempo CMR Lady Rustlers was the primary focus for Havre High girls basketball coach Jason Wirt and his Blue Ponies on Tuesday night in Great Falls.
For nearly two full quarters the Ponies did just that, but two quarters of steady play was not enough to slow down the talented Rustlers as they rolled to a 66-39 win at the CMR Fieldhouse.
Havre's defense played valiantly against the tall and athletic Rustlers, but the Pony offense broke down in certain stretches of the game, especially taking care of the basketball.
CMR forced the Ponies into 21 turnovers on the night with most of those mistakes happening during two big CMR runs that did the Ponies in. Havre's cause was also hurt by a dismal 14-25 night at the free-throw line.
"When we broke the press and did things the right way, we played very well tonight," Wirt said. "When we were able to handle their pressure, it in turn put a lot of pressure on them and we were right in the game.
"But we got into situations where we were forced to play a lot faster than we wanted to and we also gave some points away at the free-throw line and in transition," he added. "That is where CMR made their big run and that is what they are good at. They want to force you into bad shots and bad decisions handling the basketball, and at times we fell victim to that tonight."
Indeed, the Ponies were very much alive as the first quarter drew to a close, trailing by just three points, 16-13.
When Rebecca Hilliard closed the gap to 16-15 at the beginning of the second period, things looked even better for Havre. However, Shantell Marquis sparked the sluggish Rustler offense by nailing a three-pointer from the top of the key. Before the Ponies knew what hit them, the Rustlers had ripped off nine straight points, and closed out the half on a 15-2 run, giving them a very comfortable 31-17 edge.
"We didn't execute our defensive strategy as well as we wanted to at the beginning of the game," said CMR head coach Kerry Parsons. "A lot of that was due to how well Havre was handling our press. They handled our pressure much better than we expected them to. That just shows how well coached they are and how well prepared they were."
Despite the solid Havre start, Parsons knew his team would make a run eventually.
"Late in the half we got into a much better flow and we were able to start getting some transition baskets," Parsons added. "We have been a team that has had to get leads by going on big runs and then hold on. We were able to go on a couple of big runs tonight."
Although the Ponies were trailing by 14 points at intermission, they certainly weren't dead. Havre clawed its way back into the contest early in the third quarter. Whitney Barnekoff scored on an easy layup that resulted from an Amy McLain steal at the 5:57 mark of the third period.
Barnekoff's layup ended a Havre scoring drought that went all the way back to the 4:42 mark of the second quarter.
From there, the Ponies got back-to-back buckets from Steph Flatau off of offensive rebounds to shave the Rustler lead to 10 points, 34-24 with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter. Havre's defense also picked it up again, forcing CMR into seven turnovers in the period as the Ponies fought their way back into the game.
But then came one of those big CMR runs Parsons spoke of.
It came by way of junior guard Quincy Carter, who came off of the bench and ignited the CMR offense by scoring 10 points in a three-minute span, including a pair of long-range three-pointers. By the time Carter's scoring barrage was over the Rustlers were up by 18 points heading into the final stanza. From there they were able to cruise home to victory.
"Quincy Carter came in and did a great job off of the bench tonight," Parsons said. "That is one of the things that we have this season is a very deep team. We can play 10 or 11 kids and we don't really drop off when any of them are in there. This is deepest team we have had here in a long time and that depth certainly helped us out tonight."
Carter poured in game-high 17 points including three treys while Marquis added 11 points to pace the Rustlers. Other than those two, the Ponies defense did a solid job holding CMR's offense off. Star center Kelsey Hopkins only managed six points and five rebounds and she had been averaging nearly 14 points per outing.
"I thought we played great defense throughout the whole game," Wirt said. "Rebecca Hilliard did a great job on Hopkins tonight and Lena Suek also did a tremendous job guarding her when she was in there.
"We just were hurt a little bit by the turnovers and the two big runs they made," he added. "CMR is a very quick team. We won't see another team that can pressure us or as quick as they are all season, still at times we handled that pressure well."
Flatau was the only HHS player to reach double figures with 15 points on the night. The junior forward also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds for her second double-double in as many games. Hilliard and Alexa Lipp also scored six points a piece in the losing cause.
The loss to CMR drops Havre's overall record to 3-3 on the season and also ends the 2004 portion of their schedule. While the game may have appeared to be a blowout to some, Wirt sees it much differently.
"It may say that we lost by 27 points in the newspaper but I think we played much better than that tonight," Wirt said. "I think we gave CMR as much has anybody has this season except for Missoula Sentinel."
The Ponies will return to action on Jan. 4 when they take on Chinook in Havre. There will be no freshmen game on that day.
CMR 66, Havre 39
Havre 13 4 15 7 - 39
CMR 16 15 19 16 - 66
Havre - Amy McLain 2, Steph Flatau 15, Kelsey Evans 3, Alexa Lipp 6, Justine Erhard 4, Whitney Barnekoff 3, Rebecca Hilliard 6. Totals: 12 34 14 25 39.
CMR - Kelsey Hopkins 6, Quincy Carter 17, Jamie Young 4, Shantell Marquis 11, Dani Walsh 7, Shelbi Danelson 3, Alyssa Frank 6, Anna Husted 5, Whitney Riehl 1, Meaghan Yurek 2. Totals: 28 60 2 13 66.
Total fouls - Havre 15, CMR 20. Fouled out - none. Three point goals - Havre 1/6 (Evans). CMR 8/14 (Carter 3, Marquis 2, Walsh, Danelson, Husted). Rebounds: Havre 32 (Flatau 10), CMR 32 (Hopkins 5, Marquis 5). Assists: Havre 8 (Erhard 4), CMR 21 (Marquis 5). Turnovers: Havre 30, CMR 22.