By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
The Havre High girls basketball team will step out of conference play this weekend, but it will certainly step up in competition. The Ponies will host the CMR Rustlers tonight at 7:30 p.m. and then travel to Great Falls on Saturday to tangle with the Great Falls High Bison at the Bison Fieldhouse in Great Falls.
Havre enters the weekend with a 6-6 overall record and is coming off of an emotional come-from-behind win over Livingston at home last Saturday. The Ponies were blown out by the Rustlers back in mid-December, but they played well during stretches of that game.
HHS head coach Jason Wirt is hoping that his team will be able to give the Rustlers an even tougher test in the friendly confines of the HHS gymnasium.
"I think at times we played pretty well in Great Falls, but turnovers killed us in that game," Wirt said. "Our primary concern is taking care of the basketball. We have to do a better job of that because then we will be able to get more shots. Last time we just couldn't stay with them offensively and turnovers were a big part of it."
CMR comes into tonight's tilt with an 8-3 overall record. Normally that would be a sparkling record, but the Rustlers currently sit tied for third in the loaded Eastern AA.
The Rustlers bring an outstanding amount of talent led by junior forward Kelsey Hopkins and junior guard Shantel Marquis. CMR is a quick and talented team thats likes to harass teams with a frenzied full-court press and will go 13 deep off its bench if need be. While already addressing the need to handle CMR's pressure, Wirt also said that containing Hopkins and the Rustler shooters will be paramount tonight.
"(Kelsey) Hopkins is as good a low post player as there is in the state and we have to do a good job on her," Wirt said. "But CMR is such a deep team. They can hurt you in a lot of different ways. The first time we played them they got 35 points from their bench so that is definitely a concern.
"If we can handle their pressure and we are patient offensively, I think we should be able to stay with them," he added.
If hosting the Rustlers wasn't a daunting enough task, Havre will return to the Electric City on Saturday for a rematch with Great Falls High. The Bison are 8-2 this season and sit just ahead of CMR in the Eastern AA. Like the Rustlers, GFH handled Havre fairly easily in December, but the Bison presents a whole different set of problems for the Ponies.
"I think we did a good job against Great Falls High's matchup zone, but we just didn't make shots," Wirt said. "We went 1-22 from the 3-point line in that game,, so we were getting good looks but they weren't falling for us.
"The thing with Great Falls is that they have some very good offensive players. Sarah Stubbs got really hot against us, and they just ran away from us in the second half. We will have to be very good defensively and do a better job of staying with their shooters this time around."
Indeed, Stubbs, along with senior guard Lauren Beck, are two of the most prolific scorers in Class AA this season. But the Ponies were done in early by a couple of role players in their first meeting with GFH. The Bison's 6-2 center Mary Galloway started off strong, scoring eight of her team's first 10 points in Havre. Also Sam Schemerle seemed to benefit from the attention to Stubbs and Beck as she led the Bison in scoring that night.
While Wirt would love nothing more than to pick up a pair of wins against Havre's Class AA rivals this weekend, he said that what is ultimately important is making sure his team plays well and it continues to stay on the right path as the postseason draws closer.
"The big thing about this weekend is that it is a step up in competition and I need to see us step up our intensity level," Wirt said. "These two teams will prepare us for what we are going to see the last couple of games against Lewistown, Browning and Butte Central. We need to make sure that we get better in areas where we need it, and to make sure that we come out of this weekend prepared for the rest of the season."
Tonight's game between Havre High and CMR is scheduled to tipoff at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium. Saturday's game at the Bison Fieldhouse in Great Falls will tipoff at 5 p.m. Friday's game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.