Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team had nearly two weeks of rest since its season-opening win over Thompson Rivers University.
In that time, the Skylights lost starting forward Jayla McPherson to a season-ending knee injury. On Saturday night, it also appeared that MSU-N lost its ability to play sound defense. The Skylights succumbed to a 3-point onslaught from visiting University of Lethbridge in an 80-73 loss at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
The Pronghorns came into Havre and lit the Skylights up for 15 3-pointers. Not only did they make 15 treys, but they only attempted 28, which gave them an astonishing percentage from behind the arc.
The two teams were tied at 33-33 at halftime, but MSU-N had no answer for the Pronghorns' 3-point shooters. That was ultimately the difference in the Skylights' first loss of the season.
“We played very poor defense on Saturday night,” said MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat. “We just didn't have the effort and intensity that was there in our first game of the year.
“And Lethbridge is a very good team,” he added. “All of their kids can hit the 3-point shot, and they aren't afraid to take them. When they are going in like they were against us, that makes them a very dangerous club.”
Jessica Lynch paced the Pronghorns with a game-high 22 points, including five threes. Giana Gregorio also torched the Skylights for 17 points, including three treys.
Northern got 19 points from senior guard Jaci Heny as well as 12 points from Michele VanDyke. Camille Gardner and Ashley Trulock chipped in with 11 points apiece.
As bad as Northern's defense was and as good as the Pronghorns shot the ball on Saturday night, things certainly changed on Sunday afternoon when the two teams hooked up again.
The Skylights came out determined to shut the Pronghorn bombers down as well as execute offensively. That is exactly what happened. MSU-N grabbed an early lead and never let go of it on its way to a 73-65 win that wasn't even as close as the scoreboard indicated.
“Our defensive effort was night and day from Saturday to today,” Mouat said. “We made a simple little adjustment, but the credit has to go to our kids. They take pride in playing good defense, and they came out today and really put forth a tremendous effort defensively.
“I am very proud of these kids for responding and coming out and playing as hard as they did today,” he added.
The Skylights started the game off by establishing their inside presence, going inside often to DeLayne Johnston and Michele VanDyke, and later to reserve forward Ashley Trulock. The strategy worked as Northern worked its way to a solid 44-33 halftime lead.
“We wanted to get off to a good start and we wanted to establish DeLayne inside early,” Mouat said. “That worked really well for us. It opened up things for us on the perimeter, and our shooters were able to get things going.”
Indeed, senior point guard Camille Gardner shot the ball extremely well in the second half, and Heny was able to take advantage of her speed and get to the free-throw line.
Northern continued to up its lead via a 15-4 run midway through the second half, leading by as many as 17 points with less than four minutes to play. It wasn't until the game's final two minutes that the Pronghorn's 3-point shooters got going, cutting the Skylight lead to under 10 points by game's end.
As well as the Skylights played defensively, Mouat was just as pleased with his team's offensive output. The Skylights were solid from the field and got a balanced effort from the entire team.
Gardner led the way with 16 points, and Heny added 13, including a perfect 6-6 from the free-throw line. Johnston added 12 points, and Trulock was once again productive off the bench with 10 points.
“I also thought our offensive execution was night and day from Saturday,” Mouat said. “I like the shots that we took, and we did a really good job on the fast break. It was just a very solid team effort.”
The Pronghorns got a game-high 26 points from Lynch. But on this night she was the only player to reach double figures for Lethbridge. As a team, the Pronghorns only made three 3-pointers.
“She is a very good player and we had no answer for her,” Mouat said. “But in all, I am just really proud of our kids for the effort they gave tonight.”
The split with Lethbridge puts the Skylights' record at 2-1 on the young season. MSU-N will be back in action when the Skylights host Albertson College on Friday and Saturday night.
Pronghorns 80, Skylights 73
Lethbridge - Giana Gregorio 4-11 6-6 17, Jessica Lynch 7-13 3-5 22, Kim Bridge 3-5 0-0 8, Megan Campbell 2-5 2-2 6, Jordan Miltimore 5-6 0-0 12, Joan Wheat 1-2 0-0 3, Candace Thompson 4-6 2-2 12. Totals: 26-50 13-15 80.
MSU-N - Michele VanDyke 6-13 0-3 12, Ashley Trulock 4-8 3-5 11, Camille Gardner 5-8 0-4 11, Chelsie Searle 4-5 0-0 9, DeLayne Johnston 2-6 2-2 6, Jena Heggam 2-3 0-0 5. Totals: 25-54 20-29 73.
Skylights 73, Pronghorns 65
Lethbridge - Giana Gregorio 3-8 3-7 9, Jessica Lynch 11-19 2-4 26, Kim Bridge 0-1 2-2 2, Megan Campbell 4-5 0-0 8, Jordana Miltimore 4-11 0-0 9, Joan Wheat 4-4 1-4 9, Candace Thompson 0-2 2-2 2. Totals: 26-53 9-12 65
MSU-N - DeLayne Johnston 5-8 2-2 12, Michele VanDyke 4-8 0-0 8, Camille Gardner 7-10 0-0 16, Chelsie Searle 3-8 0-0 7, Jaci Heny 3-14 6-6 13, Ashlie Griffin 1-4 0-0 2, Jena Heggem 1-3 0-0 3, Ashley Trulock 5-6 0-0 10. Totals: 29-61 10-10 73.