By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Things had to get better for the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team on Saturday because they couldn't get much worse than Friday night.
After suffering a tough 52-50 loss to the University of Montana-Western in Dillon to open their road trip, the Skylights bounced back with a decisive 66-47 win over Montana Tech in Butte the following night.
If there was one game that head coach Mike Erickson would like to forget, it would be Friday night's game. It was almost as if deja vu had set in for Erickson as he watched his team struggle offensively to open the game. Northern made just six of 36 shots en route to a 16-point first half. The year before in Dillon, the Skylights made just seven of their first 29 shots in a blowout loss.
The difference this year was that Western also struggled offensively. In fact, the Bulldogs were worse, making five of 30 shots for an icy 17 percent shooting percentage and scoring 17 first-half points.
When the shots weren't falling, the teams were throwing it away. The two squads combined for 46 turnovers.
"It was some of the ugliest basketball I've ever seen," Erickson said. "We were taking shots sometimes too quickly. We were settling for the first available shot instead of waiting to get a little better shot."
Erickson was desperately hoping that a basketball game or something resembling one would break out in the second half. It did, sort of.
The two teams did manage to get things going offensively, but neither exactly shot the lights out. Northern converted 13 of 34 shots while Western was a little better at 12 of 28 shots. Even with the sluggish offense, the Skylights were in it to the end.
However, Western's Megan Schmitz hit her first two three-pointers with less than two minutes remaining to give Western the lead for good.
"Those were huge three-pointers," Erickson said. "It's not like we just let her have them. The second shot she made with Megan (Valgardson) coming at her."
Schmitz' three-pointers forced Northern to foul down the stretch and Western iced the game away from the free-throw line. It was the same place the Skylights gave the game away, according to Erickson.
The Skylights' free-throw shooting woes continued as they converted just five of nine free throws in the game, with the misses coming at crucial times.
"Our free-throw percentage has steadily gone down," Erickson said. "We're just not shooting the ball well, period, not from the field or from the free-throw line. You're not going to win many ballgames shooting poorly from the field and the free-throw line."
The poor shooting overshadowed a solid defensive performance from the Skylights.
"Our defense was there again," Erickson said. "Our defense has been consistent, but we are just so inconsistent on offense."
Schmitz scored 14 points to lead Western, while Katherine Sunwall added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Northern got a game-high 19 points from Jessi Reome, as well as 11 from Anna Bateman and 10 from Khadiga Mohamed.
Erickson knew his team couldn't possibly shoot that badly a night later in Butte, but it gave him a scare early on. Northern struggled early in the game, but calmed down and started to get on track offensively.
Erickson went with a lineup switch, inserting Chasi Buffington and Reome into the starting lineup as a way to shake things up.
"I told the girls at the beginning of the season that the players who were playing hard were going to play," Erickson said. "It was just something to try and get them going."
The Skylights' cold shooting continued, with an icy 28 percent performance in the first half. Still, Northern handled it much better than the night before.
"A lot of times, if we don't get going in that first five minutes, we start to press and force shots," Erickson said. "But against Tech we continued to stay patient and work for the good shot."
Northern came out of its offensive funk in the second half thanks in large part to its defense. Erickson continually switched defenses, which flustered Tech into several turnovers, leading to some easy baskets.
"We kept changing it up," Erickson said. "We went to the full-court pressure and caught them off guard. We tried to keep them off balance offensively by changing defenses throughout the game."
The strategy worked as Tech turned the ball over 16 times and made just six of 22 shots in the second half.
Bateman led a balanced Skylight attack with 16 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Mohamed added 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Brettney Vermandel added 11 points.
Tech was led by Melissa Ritter with 13 points, while Kyle Cook added 12 points.
"It was a total group effort," Erickson said. "Kristie Pullin gave us a nice spark off the bench with some key steals and Brettney scored some points, which we need her to do on a regular basis."
With the win, Northern improves to 13-7 overall and 2-1 in the Frontier Conference. Tech fell to 8-15 overall and 1-3 in conference.
The Skylights return home for a pair of games against conference-leading Carroll College and Rocky Mountain College.
Khadiga Mohamed 4-15 1-2 10; Brettney Vermandel 0-2 0-0 0; Michele VanDyke 1-7 0-0 2; Megan Valgardson 2-7 2-4 6; Anna Bateman 3-12 2-2 11; DeLayne Johnston 1-4 0-0 2; Jessi Reome 8-11 0-1 19; Jena Heggem 0-2 0-0 0, Chasi Buffington 0-0 0-0 0; Kristie Pullin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-60 5-9 50.
Alyssa Matter 2-11 2-2 7; Megan Schmitz 5-16 2-2 14; Hillary Taylor 2-6 1-2 6; Jamie Buell 2-7 0-0 5; Katherine Sunwall 5-7 1-2 11; Lindsey Scott 1-6 0-0 0; Tiffany Lyman 0-0 0-0 0; Billi Suhr 1-4 0-0 2; Meghan Gradert 0-1 4-6 4. Totals: 18-58 10-14 52.
Halftime: UMW 17, MSUN 16. Three-point goals: MSUN 7-19 (Mohamed 1-2, Valgardson 0-1, Bateman 3-10, Reome 3-5), UMW 6-28 (Matter 1-6, Schmitz 2-11, Taylor 1-1, Buell 1-3, Scott 1-5, Suhr 0-2). Rebounds: MSUN 40 (Valgardson 10, Vermandel 8); UMW 30 (Sunwall 10, Gradert 10) Assists: MSUN 13 (Vermandel 3, Johnston 3); UMW 14 (Taylor 5). Turnovers: MSUN 26, UMW 20. Total fouls: MSUN 15, UMW 11. Fouled out - none; Technicals - MSUN coach.
Jessi Reome 2-10 0-0 4, Anna Bateman 7-11 0-0 16, Chasi Buffington 1-5 0-0 3, Brettney Vermandel 4-8 3-4 11, Megan Valgardson 0-4 5-6 5, DeLayne Johnston 0-2 0-2 0, Kristie Pullin 1-3 2-2 4, Kristal Lohse 0-0 0-0 0, Khadiga Mohamed 4-11 4-9 12, Jena Heggem 1-2 2-2 4, Michele VanDyke 2-5 3-6 7. Totals 22-61 19-31 66.
MONTANA TECH (47)
Marcie Alzheimer 2-7 0-0 4, Melissa Ritter 5-9 3-4 13, Kyle Cook 4-12 4-5 12, Letty Powell 0-5 2-2 2, Kaila Fowler 2-10 0-0 4, Collette Phillips 0-3 1-2 1, Krystin Mengon 3-10 0-0 7, Ali Carys 0-0 0-0 0, Johanna Fryer 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 18-60 10-13 47.
Halftime score - MSUN 30, TECH 29. Three-point goals: MSUN 3-12 (Reome 0-3, Bateman 2-5, Buffington 1-1, Johnston 0-1, Mohamed 0-1), TECH 1-16 (Cook 0-5, Powell 0-3, Fowler 0-4, Phillips 0-1, Mengon 1-3). Rebounds: MSUN 45 (Mohamed 13), TECH 46 (Ritter 11, Alzheimer 10). Assists: MSUN 10 (Bateman, Mohamed, VanDyke 2), TECH 10 (Cook, Fowler 3). Total fouls: MSUN 17, TECH 22. Fouled out - Powell. Technical fouls - none.