Havre Daily News sports editor
Saturday's game between the Montana State University-Northern Lights and the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns will be the final tune-up for the Lights before they head into the rough-and-tumble Frontier Conference men's season.
For MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse, the fact that the Lights haven't played a game in 12 days isn't as much of a concern as one might think.
“Twelve days ago we were pretty banged up,” Huse said. “So Christmas break has been very good for us. The last four days of practice we have finally had everybody on the floor and it has been really good.
“I think we'll probably be a little rusty against Lethbridge,” he added. “But it will be more on the mental side of things and that won't take long to shake off.”
The fact that the matchup with the Pronghorns is the last nonconference before the Lights travel to UM-Western and Montana Tech to open the conference season next weekend doesn't worry Huse either, even though Northern has already dismantled Lethbridge, 83-59, last month.
“I actually think this game against Lethbridge is just what we need,” Huse said. “They are very similar to what we'll see next weekend against Western and Tech.
“I also think we are ready for conference play,” Huse added. “There isn't much more we could do to get ready for it, so it's definitely time for the conference season to start.”
Despite the lopsided margin in the teams' first meeting in Lethbridge, the Pronghorns will be a more than worthy adversary on New Year's Eve day. Huse said the Pronghorns are a very talented team, and they are very capable of giving Northern a very tough game.
“The only difference between us the first time we played them, in my opinion, is that we shot the ball very well and they were pretty cold,” Huse said. “They are very talented and very athletic and I think they match up well with us. So, we are expecting them to come in here and play well on Saturday.”
The Pronghorns come into Saturday's game with a 4-4 overall record, which includes a win over Montana Tech in Butte and a close loss to UM-Western in Dillon. The Pronghorns have good physical size with five players at 6-7 or taller. They also get solid guard play from 6-4 Richard Humphrey and 6-1 Chris King. The athletic Pronghorns only have one player on the roster who is smaller than 6-0.
“They are a very capable basketball team,” Huse said. “I think their athleticism will be good for us to face and they should give us a very tough test.”
When the Lights returned home from California three weeks ago, Huse was facing a dilemma of epic proportions. Northern was already playing without point guard Leo Bullchild and senior forward Reid Stovall because of injury. Then, in a difficult loss to Concordia College, the Lights lost leading scorer Jordan Matthews to a leg injury. When the team's plane reached Great Falls, Huse had no idea how long any of the three would be sidelined.
That is where the holiday break came into play.
“I think Leo and Jordan are both game-time decisions right now,” Huse said. “But they have both been practicing well and seem to have healed up really nicely. Reid is at about 80 percent right now so it is just kind of a wait-and-see with him.”
“The time off has been really good to us,” he added. “We're as healthy as we have been in a long time and practice has gone really well. Now it's time to get back out on the floor and fine tune some things for the conference season.”
Saturday's game between MSU-N and the University of Lethbridge will tip off at 1 p.m. at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse in Havre.