By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Despite what anyone might think, the regular season in high school girls basketball is very important, especially when you play in the ultra-competitive Central A conference.
As his team prepares to open the Central A divisional girls basketball tournament tonight, Havre High School head coach Dennis Murphy believes that ,due to a very difficult and very successful regular season campaign, his Ponies are now ready for the post season.
"You play the regular season to get better and to put yourself in the best possible position for the divisional tournament," Murphy said. "I think that we have accomplished a lot during the regular season, and hopefully we are prepared for this weekend."
The Ponies will open the tournament against fifth-seeded Anaconda in tonight's final first-round game at 8 p.m.
Anaconda comes into the tournament with a 10-8 record, having won nine of its final 12 games of the season. Many are tabbing the Copperheads to be the sleeper of the tournament and Murphy is well aware of the difficult test that his troops will face in the first round.
"It seems like we played Anaconda an eternity ago," Murphy said. "But like everyone, I am sure that they are much improved. They play really good defense and they have a very athletic team.
"They are quick too," Murphy added. "When we played them in December, we couldn't press them."
Anaconda is the second-ranked defensive team in the Central A this season and Havre is the top-rated offensive team, so it will be a contrast in styles somewhat.
The Ponies also possess the league's leading scorer in senior Jolene Fuzesy. Anaconda is paced offensively by junior Christina Laslovich and freshman Cara Laslovich.
Still, the Copperheads have struggled offensively at times this year, while the Ponies have had their difficulties on the defensive end of the floor. Both Murphy and Anaconda head coach Maury Cook admitted that something will have to give when the two teams square off tonight.
"Anaconda is not really a potent offensive team," Murphy said. "But their quickness and defense have kept them in games. I think the key for us will be to force them into a half-court game and slow them down. And we will have to be very sharp defensively."
Said Cook: "Our offense has started to come around lately and we have been playing much better basketball. But we still have trouble shooting the ball and we will definitely need to be consistent on offense, because we know Havre's offense is so talented. We're going to have to score points.
"I do think that we are playing our best basketball of the season right now," Cook added. "If we play like we have recently, I like our chances because this tournament is so competitive that anybody can knock anybody off from top to bottom."
If the Ponies manage to get by the Copperheads, they will likely have a rubber game with top-seeded Lewistown in Friday's semifinal. While Murphy is obviously not looking past Anaconda, he is mindful of what it will take for his team to get one of the coveted two state tournament berths that will be up for grabs this weekend.
"There is no doubt that the two teams that go to state will have to earn it," Murphy said. "There is no cakewalk in this tournament and we know that. The kids understand that we are going to have to play at a very high level and we are going to have to beat some very good teams if we are going to get out of this tournament.
"I also think that our girls are very focused and very determined," Murphy added. "They know that in order to get to where we want to go, it will take every player on our team's best effort all weekend. In a tournament like this, you can't afford to have a bad game."
One thing that may prove beneficial this weekend is the fact that the Ponies are at home. Sleeping in your own bed and not driving 300 miles one way is obviously an advantage which could play a part in the Ponies' chances this weekend.
"The longer you stay in the tournament the more of an advantage being the host becomes," Murphy said. "The hotel rooms and the eating out late and the driving around really can wear on you as the weekend goes on, so Saturday morning is really where being at home can be a big advantage."
Coming into this weekend, the Ponies have played six games against opponents in the field. Havre dropped two games to top-seeded Lewistown, and split with Browning. At the Central A tip-off tournament in Browning, Havre swept a pair of games against the Copperheads and Belgrade. Even though Havre hasn't played everyone in the tournament this year (as is always the case with regionalized scheduling), Murphy can still assess his team's chances this weekend.
"We are playing our best basketball of the season right now and that is what you want," Murphy said. "This is a very tough tournament and there are only two spots up for grabs. But everyone is in the same situation and your going to have to beat a good team in order to get there.
"If we play as well as we're capable of playing, especially defensively, then I think we have a really good chance to meet our goals this weekend."
Today's first round game of the Central A girls divisional tournament between Havre and Anaconda will tip off at 8 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.