By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ email@example.com
It is back to the drawing board for Havre High head boys basketball coach Mark West.
West has watched his team struggle on the defensive end of the floor and in the rebounding department for the better part of the season. But in a 12-point loss in Glasgow on Saturday night, West said his team was excellent in both phases of the game. However, the Ponies only managed to score 40 points in the game. So now it is the Pony offense that has West scratching his head.
"We played so well defensively and we rebounded the ball great despite Glasgow's size," West said. "But we could not get on track offensively. I think we have actually been struggling for a little while now on the offensive end."
Offense is one thing the Ponies (8-4) will definitely need as they prepare to host the No. 2 CMR Rustlers Friday night at the Havre High gymnasium.
CMR (10-1) is the top-ranked defensive team in Class AA basketball. Veteran head coach and Hi-Line native, Mike McLean, is able to go ten-deep off of his bench. CMR also owns a 61-44 win over the Ponies in Great Falls back on Dec. 18.
"I think the kids are excited and ready to play CMR again," West said. "The loss at Glasgow was tough, but they aren't hanging their heads about it. They know we don't have a lot of season left and these games this weekend are very important."
Important would be understating the obvious. Havre is neck-and-neck with Belgrade for the Central A conference lead and a win over a Class AA opponent would give the Ponies a slight advantage in the Central A "Kount" system standings. However, West knows that knocking off the Rustlers is the most daunting goal his team will try to achieve at this point in the season.
The Rustlers dominated Havre in the second half of the game in Great Falls. The Ponies were actually leading midway through the third period, but CMR turned up its token defensive pressure, which spurred them to a huge run that put Havre away.
CMR was also playing without leading scorer Don DeGooyer and starting center Greg Gysberg. The Rustlers got solid contributions from Jon Buffington and Tanner Lagge in DeGooyer and Gysberg's absence. Buffington's play has earned him a permanent spot in McLean's starting five. Although this time around, the Rustlers may be without another key player in forward Ryan Bagley, who is listed as questionable for Friday's contest.
"We are preparing for CMR as if Bagley will play because we just don't know," West said. "But they are such a deep team that they can bring several different guys in if someone goes down and they don't miss a thing."
If Havre is to reverse its fortunes against the Rustlers, West said it will again come down to rebounding and offense. The Ponies gave up 17 offensive rebounds to CMR in the first meeting, while the Rustlers doubled Havre's rebounding total for the game.
"We can't get beat on the boards and give them a bunch of second chance points," West said. "If that happens again it could be another long night.
"We also have to stay patient on offense, which is something we didn't do in the second half against them in Great Falls," West continued. "CMR is so good defensively that we have to work really hard just to get open looks. If we are going to be successful, we have to make sure we take advantage of the open looks and not force things that aren't there. If we can do that, we should be able to stay with them."
On Saturday night, the Ponies will head to Lewistown for a rematch with a struggling Eagle team that is still searching for its first win of the season. Havre drubbed Lewistown on Dec. 20. Despite the Eagles struggles this season, West is not taking anything for granted.
"I think that Lewistown is a team that if they put together a complete four quarters, they would be a very dangerous team," West said. "But they haven't done that yet this season and they are really struggling.
"This is still a rivalry game and Lewistown is a very tough place to play," West added. "We haven't had much success there in the past so this is a must-win game for us."
The game between Havre and CMR will tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at the Havre High gymnasium. The Ponies and the Eagles will also tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Fergus County Gym.