By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre High girls basketball team only has one game on its schedule this week. Normally, that would be a welcome break in the hectic world of Montana high school basketball.
But tonight the Ponies will get no such break when they welcome the No. 5 ranked Class AA Great Falls High Bison to the Havre High gymnasium.
Havre High comes into tonight's contest with a 6-2 record and also ranked fifth in the latest Class A power poll.
Meanwhile, the Bison are 5-1 this season and have a win against a common opponent as they handed the CMR Lady Rustlers their only loss of the season last month.
Veteran Blue Pony head coach Dennis Murphy will be the first to admit that tonight's game will be a big challenge for his team, but he also believes that because of his familiarity with the Bison, his Ponies will be well prepared.
"Great Falls High is a very good basketball team and they will definitely make things tough on us tonight," Murphy said. "They are different from CMR in that the Bison have great guards while CMR is so strong inside.
"Because of that, I think we match up with them a little better than we did against CMR," Murphy added. "They also play a matchup zone and we have been working hard on attacking it all week in practice. Things have gone really well in practice, but as always, you wonder how well you are simulating the team you are going to play. So we'll see how well we actually do against it."
Last season, Great Falls High swept the season series with the Ponies and personnel did not change much in Great Falls. The Bison did graduate all-state guard Michela Schmitz, who now plays for the University of Montana, but they return two talented shooters in Sarah Stubbs and senior point guard Lauren Beck. Kari Winkler and Mary Galloway also return to give the Bison a very solid starting five.
"I think the Great Falls High is probably a lot more balanced on offense than they were last year," Murphy said. "They looked to Schmitz for a lot of their scoring. But we have seen this team without her before because we played them once last year when she was hurt, so it won't be that different."
Meanwhile, the Ponies personnel has changed some since last year's games with the Bison. While GFH lost perhaps Class AA's most talented player, the Ponies gained perhaps Class B's most talented player in senior Jolene Fuzesy, who is leading the Central A conference in scoring at better than 28 points per game.
While Murphy knows that the Bison will be a huge test for his team tonight, he does think that his team has every reason to believe it can win.
Murphy firmly maintains that his Ponies are capable of playing with the Bison, if they can be better defensively than they were in two critical wins last weekend over Browning and Malta.
"We have to defend them much better than we have been doing," Murphy said. "I think we will score against them. The game will really come down to whether or not we can stop them at critical times."
Murphy also sees this game as being important for several other reasons. Havre is currently sitting in third place in the Central A standings and a win over a AA opponent would be huge in the Central A points standings system.
"This is the time of year when you start looking toward the postseason and a win against the Bison would be huge for us down the road," Murphy said. "We also want to protect our home court because it is very important to win at home and really establish yourself."
Tonight's game between Havre High and GFH will tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium.