By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
One would be good, but two would be even better.
The Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team isn't worried about some two-for-one sale. It's pretty simple for the Skylights: If they win their games against Lewis-Clark State and Westminster College this weekend, they will clinch a first-round home playoff game.
If they only manage to win one, then they will need a little help from the University of Great Falls to get a coveted home playoff game.
Sounds simple enough, except Northern will have to get those wins against a pair of teams that it lost to earlier in the season.
While most coaches would be pulling their hair out, that isn't a problem for head coach Mike Erickson on several levels. Instead of being nervous, Erickson is excited.
"I am very excited for this weekend," he said. "I am excited to see how our girls react to this situation when their backs are against the wall. Two wins guarantees us a home game; one win, we need some help."
No offense to UGF, but Erickson and his team do not want to rely on help and would rather take care of it themselves. But it won't be easy.
Northern hosts a Lewis-Clark State team that is second in the Frontier Conference with an 8-4 record and has a three-game winning streak over the Skylights.
The Warriors bring a mixture of youth and experience and size and athleticism to the floor. LC is coming off a 69-54 win over Westminster and has won five of its last six games.
LC brings a balanced attack led by the trio of Cami Kalbfleisch, Ashley Baker and Jessica Foot, who rank seventh through ninth in the conference in scoring, at about 14 points per game. LC averages 75.1 points per game and leads the conference in rebounding at 39 per game. Their versatility provides plenty of problems for Northern.
"We know they're going to get their shots," Erickson said. "We're just going to have to make it hard on them and we can't allow them any second shots."
Besides slowing down LC's offense, Northern must find a way to deal with the Warriors' relentless defensive pressure.
"We have to stay poised against their ball pressure," Erickson said. "We can't break down when they pressure us. And we have to pressure them some because I think it's the key to winning games in this league."
If Northern can get by Lewis-Clark, it will face the team it is directly competing with for the last home playoff game in the Westminster College Griffins. WC comes into Havre tied with Northern at 7-5 in conference. But the Griffins are in the midst of a second-half slide. They have won just one of their last five games and have fallen off considerably after leading the conference early in the season.
Still, one of those early wins was a 58-47 decision over Northern in Salt Lake City. That game was far from the Skylights' best performance.
"That's a game we felt like we should have won," Erickson said. "We came out very flat and unprepared. I don't think that will happen this time. We've always played teams better the second time around."
Westminster is led by the conference's leading scorer and MVP candidate, Rebekah Steenblik, who is averaging 19.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Basically, all of WC's offense goes through Steenblik and slowing her down will be the key.
"They utilize just Steenblik for just about everything," Erickson said. "We have to do whatever it takes not to let her beat us. We have to make their other players (try to) beat us instead."
And Erickson firmly believes that Northern can get to the Griffins' other players with some defensive pressure.
"We have to attack them on both ends of the floor and get them to play our style and tempo of basketball," Erickson said. "We have had success forcing them into turnovers in the past and we need to do it again."
Really, what Erickson wants to see is his team play its best basketball of the season in its final two games of the regular season.
"We have yet to have five or six players play well all at once," Erickson said. "This is the time of year when you have to play your best and most consistent basketball. That's why I've asked the five people on the floor at any time to be prepared to contribute. We can't rely on one or two people this weekend and expect to win."
Both of the Skylights games will tip off at 6 p.m. and can be heard on 92.5 KPQX-FM.