By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre Blue Ponies got off to a fast start in 2003 winning their first four games of the season. But the Ponies' final two games before Christmas break were a different story. Havre was knocked off at home by a very good CMR Lady Rustler team, and the following night, the Ponies were drubbed by Central A foe Lewistown.
Two weeks have now passed since the Ponies last took the floor, and HHS veteran head coach Dennis Murphy is hoping that the new year will help erase any lingering thoughts of the last two games as his team hosts the Browning Indians. Havre will then take to the road Saturday when the team travels to District 2B powerhouse Malta.
"We knew when we looked at our schedule that we had a tough finish against two quality opponents before Christmas break," Murphy said. "Now we have to come back and play two quality opponents this weekend. Hopefully, we are ready to play."
Tonight the Ponies will face a 5-1 Browning team led by a familiar foe in 6-2 center Tamara Guardipee. The Indians also return a trio of quality scorers in Joanna Eagle Feathers, Kendall Edmo and Jenna Skunk Cap. The Indians go ten deep off of the bench and have the type of size that the Ponies have had trouble matching up with thus far this season. But for Murphy, containing Guardipee will be the primary concern tonight.
"We are going to play more zone against Browning than we have against other teams this year," Murphy said. "We are going to try to have two people on Tamara every time she touches the ball and hopefully limit her scoring chances inside.
"But Browning has a lot of quality players so we have to be aware of them beating us that way."
Murphy also expects the Indians to pressure his guards and try to force the Ponies into making uncharacteristic mistakes. It is in that area where Murphy is hoping his team improved the most over the holiday break.
"I expect Browning to put a lot of pressure on us and we have to be ready for that," Murphy said. "But what I want to see from our team is the same thing from us defensively that they will try to do. We need to be more physical and we need to force teams to shoot from the perimeter. So far we have been giving up too many easy shots and we definitely need to improve on that."
On Saturday night, Havre will travel to Malta. The circumstances around a Pony-Mustang game are always interesting, given the fact that Murphy was a former coach there. However, things are even more interesting this year. Havre will return to Malta with a former Malta player it its lineup. Senior Jolene Fuzesy, who is leading the Ponies in scoring, will be making her first return trip to the Malta Gymnasium since transferring to Havre High earlier this year.
"I am sure it will be awkward and somewhat strange for her," Murphy said. "She has built friendships and relationships with a lot of people down there. But I think once the game starts it will just be time to focus on basketball and everything will be normal."
The M-Ettes are 6-1 this season, which may be a surprise to many considering the fact that they lost the premier player in Class B hoops last season in Fuzesy. Malta's only loss came at the hands of Lewistown, who also has a 20-point win over the Ponies. Havre swept the M-Ettes in the season series last year.
"I think a lot of people wrote Malta off with Jolene (Fuzesy) coming here," Murphy said. "But they are playing good basketball right now and it seems to be business as usual down there."
Malta is led by a pair of double-digit scorers in Roshon Nordlund and Jolene Pankratz. They also get solid contributions from Nicole Salisbury and Jill King.
"We know that the game in Malta will be tough for us," Murphy said. "They will play a 2-3 zone defense and they are going to force us to have to score from the outside. If we shoot the ball well and play good defense, we should be in good shape."
Tonight's contest between Havre (4-2) and Browning will tipoff at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium. Saturday night's game between the Ponies and M-Ettes will also get underway at 7:30 p.m. in Malta.