By Ryan Divish
When you win 11 straight games, it's sometimes easy to take that success for granted.
The Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team tasted defeat last weekend, for the first time in over a month. And it was anything but sweet.
The Skylights will look to return to their winning ways tonight when they host the Westminster College Griffins at 6 at the MSU-Northern gymnasium. Northern will also host 20th-ranked Lewis-Clark on Saturday at 6 p.m.
"I definitely think we're a little remotivated following last weekend's losses at Rocky and Carroll," said Skylights head coach Mike Erickson. "After winning that many games in a row even when they weren't playing well, they kind of took it for granted."
If there's one thing you can't do in the Frontier Conference it is take games for granted.
Take tonight's matchup with Westminster. Although the Griffins, under new head coach J.D. Gustin, are tied for last in the conference with an 0-3 record and 3-14 overall record, Erickson and his team are taking nothing for granted.
"We're not in any position to look past anyone after losing two straight," he said. "Westminster is better than their record indicates. They played LC tough last week and they have the two leading scorers in the conference."
Junior center Shalee Fackrell is picking up the slack for departed all-conference post player Rebekah Steenblik. Fackrell leads the conference in scoring at 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Teammate Lindsay Huffman is adding 19.1 points and 4.9 assists per game. Together they account for more than half of Westminster's offensive production.
"Fackrell can score from anywhere," Erickson said. "She's very versatile and finds ways to get points. Huffman is a great athlete that shoots at high percentage and makes things happen."
Most everything the Griffins run is for Fackrell or Huffman and Northern will focus its defensive efforts on the duo.
"We need to know where they are at all times," Erickson said. "We have to be solid defensively on them, but we also can't let any of their other players get easy baskets."
Northern will go from the last place team tonight to the first place team on Saturday. LC State sits atop the conference standings with a 3-0 conference record and a 14-5 record overall.
The Warriors have been a perennial power under former Montana high school coach Brian Orr and looked poised to make another run at the NAIA national tournament.
"LC is big and quick," Erickson said. "They have big guards that can shoot and solid post players."
The Warriors are led by sophomore post Ashley Baker and juniors guards Cami Kalbfleisch and Nikki Haerling.
Baker if fifth in the conference in scoring at 15.4 points per game and fourth in rebounding at 9.5 per game.
Kalbfleisch and Haerling combine to score over 21 points per game and have sank a combined 56 three-pointers on the season. Forward Kendra West is also chipping in with 9.6 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
"When they're shooting the ball well, they're tough to beat," Erickson said. "We really have to be up on them defensively. We can't give them any open looks."
Another area where Northern must be better against LC is rebounding. In past years, the Warriors got a passel of offensive boards for key second chance points.
"They killed us with offensive rebounds in the past," Erickson said. "We have to be disciplined and box out. They shoot quite a few three's so we have to get to the long rebounds as well."
This year's LC squad is different than in years past. The Warriors haven't used their stifling zone press as often and are looking to run more offensively. In the past, Orr controlled the tempo of the game with dozens of different offensive sets.
"They really like to press more at home in their old gym," Erickson said. "They still do it a little, but not as much before. He's also letting them run and freelance more with their athleticism."
Scouting reports aside, Erickson's main concern is his team's attitude and its ability to bounce back after a pair of close losses.
"We talked all year about having to do the little things to win games in the Frontier Conference," Erickson said. "They saw first-hand how important that was last week. In close games like that, each person can look back on something they could have done to change the outcome. We have been much more focused this week in practice."
Erickson is also looking for his team to push the tempo in both games, which would hopefully revitalize a bit of a shooting slump.
"We want to push the ball every chance we get," he said. "We feel like our guards create some match-up problems with their athleticism and quickness."
Maybe the friendly confines of the MSU-Northern gym will also help.
"It's good to be back home," Erickson said. "You get to sleep in your own bed and it's just more relaxed. I know the girls are excited to be back and the students are back as well. I think that we'll give us some confidence playing in our gym."
Northern's games can be heard locally on 92.5 KPQX-FM or on the net at www.msun.edu/athletics.