By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
The No. 1-ranked Havre High boys basketball team might be taking a break from Central A conference action this weekend, but it will certainly be putting their current seven-game winning streak on the line when they face both the CMR Rustlers and Great Falls High Bison in a pair of non-conference clashes.
Tonight, Havre will journey to the Electric City to face the 4-6 Rustlers in a much-anticipated rematch of a game in which the Ponies thrashed CMR by 20 points in Havre earlier this month.
Since that time Havre (10-1) has not a lost a basketball game and has assumed the position as the top-ranked team in Class A basketball. And while the Rustlers season has continued to be one of inconsistency, HHS first-year head coach John Barnhorst expects nothing less than a classic battle when his team invades the CMR Fieldhouse tonight at 7:30 p.m.
"I expect that this will be a very intense and emotional basketball game," Barnhorst said. "I know CMR will be ready to play because they definitely don't want to lose to us twice. But I also think our kids will be ready to go, because they know this is a big opportunity for them to beat them twice, which is something that doesn't happen very often."
Indeed, a HHS team has not swept the Rustlers since the infamous 1991 season, a year in which the Ponies reeled of 22 straight wins before getting upset by Laurel in the Class A state semifinals.
In its first win over CMR, Havre frustrated the Rustlers by matching their physical style of play and forcing CMR to play a more uptempo style of basketball. CMR also struggled to shoot the ball from the outside, while Havre did not.
Barnhorst said that CMR first-year head coach John Cislo has made some adjustments to the CMR lineup, inserting 6-3 junior Kelvin Steele into the starting rotation. Steele, along with Tanner Lagge and Austin Mullins, gives the Rustlers a strong and tall front line. He also expects Cislo to play the Ponies a bit differently tonight.
"I think that CMR will try to control the tempo a lot more in this game and really keep the game in the half court," Barnhorst said. "Our press got them out of the comfort zone the first time we played them, and they really never got into the game offensively.
"I think we will also see some more zone from them," he added. "We matched them inside so I am sure they will try to make us shoot the ball more from the outside."
As for the Ponies, Barnhorst said he isn't changing anything in his approach to tonight's contest. Havre's offense is clicking on all cylinders and its defense is forcing teams into an average of 19 turnovers per game.
"We will still try to get after CMR and press them and try to keep the game at a faster pace," Barnhorst said. "If we can hold our own in the paint and make some shots, I think we will have a good chance of winning this game. But CMR will be ready to play and it is very tough to win in their gym. It should be a really fun game to watch."
On Saturday evening, the Ponies will welcome the Great Falls High Bison to the Havre High gymnasium.
The Bison (5-5) are the only team to have beaten the Ponies thus far this season. In that game at the Bison Fieldhouse back in December, Havre trailed by just four points midway through the fourth quarter. But GFH scored 16 unanswered points and ran away with the contest in the closing minutes.
Barnhorst believes his team is more than capable of staying with the Bison, but he said that several things will have to be different this time around if Havre is to avenge its only loss to date.
"We have to do a better job of containing Shaun Tatarka and Bobby Howard," Barnhorst said. "They are both very good shooters and they make the Bison a very explosive offensive team.
"We didn't do a good job on them the first time we played them," Barnhorst added. "Especially in the fourth quarter where they really hurt us."
Barnhorst also said that he is making a couple of defensive adjustments in order to disrupt the Bison offensively.
"We never really got our press going in Great Falls because we kept running into matchup problems," Barnhorst said. "We are moving some kids around and we will have Gary Wagner guarding the inbounds player so that should eliminate those mismatches."
"I think the key to this game is on the defensive end of the floor," he added. "If we can press them effectively and contain their guards, we should be fine."
Offensively, the Ponies should have no trouble keeping up with the high-scoring Bison. Havre is averaging a shade over 80 points per game and senior Ty Hedalen is coming off of a 33-point outburst against Livingston. Win or lose this weekend, Barnhorst said that this is the perfect time to be playing to highly respected Class AA opponents.
"We're going into this weekend with the mindset that this is a tournament type atmosphere," Barnhorst said. "We're not looking ahead at all, but both of these games will be intense and they will be played at a really high level. It will be a lot like the games we will play at the divisional tournament so it will be really good for us to be in those situations this weekend."
Havre will be in Great Falls tonight to play the CMR Rustlers at 7:30 p.m. at the CMR Fieldhouse. Havre's game with GFH will tipoff at 5 p.m. on Saturday at the HHS gymnasium. Both games can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.