Havre Daily News sports editor
Not to take anything away from the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team, but if someone had said before Saturday's game with No. 9 UM-Western that the Skylights would take the lead early and never trail again, most people would of thought that person was crazy.
That is exactly what transpired at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse as the Skylights trounced the highly touted Bulldogs, 72-57, in Frontier Conference action in Havre. The Skylights also routed Montana Tech, 92-68, on Friday night.
“This was a very big win for us and a big weekend overall,” MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat said. “It gives us some confidence back after we lost it a little. We are back to having fun playing together as a team. I think we were lacking that enthusiasm in Great Falls and we had it against Western tonight.”
After withstanding an early flurry of activity from UM-Western star Becky O'Neil and seven lead changes in the first four minutes of the game, MSU-N senior Jaci Heny banged home a deep 3-pointer to give the Skylights a 12-10 lead with 14:47 remaining in the first half.
The Bulldogs would never lead again.
Despite losing forward Michele VanDyke to foul trouble in the first half, Northern kept Western at bay and finished the first half on a 13-3 run to lead 38-25.
“I thought we got off to a great start offensively,” Mouat said. “And that was huge. We got the ball inside to DeLayne (Johnston), and our two senior guards were knocking down shots when they were open and pushing the ball up the floor when it was there.
“We also did a good job defensively in the first half,” he added. “Becky O'Neil was on fire early and we knew she was going to score some points. But we did a really good job on their guards.”
Western is one of the premier teams in all of NAIA women's basketball, and there was no doubt the Bulldogs would make a run in the second half.
The Bulldogs reeled off nine unanswered points to close the gap to nine points with 13 minutes to play, but Johnston and reserve forward Ashley Trulock made sure the Skylights wouldn't let Western get any closer.
Johnston scored a game-high 23 points and pulled down 15 rebounds on her way to her second straight double-double. But it was Trulock who inspired the Skylights on both ends of the floor. The sophomore from Troy came on in relief of VanDyke and scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. More importantly, she stood up to star forwards O'Neil and Katherine Sunwall, as well as the pressure of an intense Frontier Conference battle.
“Ashley Trulock was the difference in the game,” Mouat said. “I have a lot of confidence in Ashley and we had to have her step up tonight. And she did that. She made some big buckets, she got a couple of huge offensive rebounds and she was playing very hard and at a very high level.”
Said Trulock: “I knew I could play like that. I have a lot of confidence in myself and I am thankful I got the opportunity to come in and help my team win this game. This was a huge win for us and we got it done because we played together and we played hard and believed in each other out there on the floor.”
There were a lot of bright spots in Northern's upset of the Bulldogs. Heny was her usual self, pouring in 21 points, including four threes. Northern matched Western on the boards at 40-40, something that hasn't happened very often this season.
“You just have to give a lot of credit to our kids,” Mouat said. “They went out and played at a really high level for the most part. There are always things we still need to work on, but tonight our kids played very, very well and they deserve this win.”
The win over Western capped off a brilliant weekend for the Skylights, and for Johnston and Heny.
On Friday night, in the win over Montana Tech, the duo combined for 44 points, with Heny pouring in a game-high 26, including a 4-for-4 performance from beyond the arc and an 8-for-8 performance from the free-throw line. Johnston added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and senior point guard Camille Gardner chipped in with a dazzling 21 points, including three treys and seven assists. Michele VanDyke added 12 points. As a team, the Skylights shot 54 percent from the field and an astounding 73 percent from the 3-point line.
The win over Tech snapped an MSU-N four-game losing streak.
“This win was very important for us from a confidence standpoint,” Johnston said. “I think we played a real solid game all the way around tonight. We were able to get the ball inside, and when that happens our shooters usually get left open and they knocked down some big shots tonight.”
The Orediggers were paced in the loss by Johanna Fryer's 14 points. Former Box Elder standout Tami Infante added 11 points.
Northern (4-5, 14-7) will make its final road trip of the season when the Skylights visit Carroll College on Thursday night and Rocky Mountain College on Saturday.
Skylights 92, Orediggers 68
MT - Stephanie Baertsch 3-12 0-0 6, Kyle Cook 3-6 1-1 8, Tami Infante 5-8 1-2 11, Marcie Alzheimer 3-4 0-0 6, Johanna Fryer 6-12 1-2 14, Jacquie Millam 4-7 0-1 11, Kelsey Devries 1-4 0-0 2, Jordan Kambich 5-13 0-1 10. Totals 30-66 3-7.
MSU-N - DeLayne Johnston 6-13 6-8 18, Jena Heggem 3-4 0-0 7, Michele VanDyke 4-9 4-6 12, Camille Gardner 7-11 4-4 21, Jaci Heny 7-10 8-8 26, Mandee Carroll 1-1 0-0 2, Ashley Trulock 2-8 2-4 6. Totals 30-56 24-30.
Skylights 72, Bulldogs 57
UMW - Becky O'Neil 7-13 7-12 21, Katherine Sunwall 2-3 6-10 10, Crystal Kain 2-7 1-3 8, Megan Schmitz 3-12 0-1 6, Billi Suhr 1-12 0-2 3, Lindsey Scott 1-2 0-0 3, Laura Shea 3-9 0-0 6, Genna Rucker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-59 14-28.
MSU-N - DeLayne Johnston 8-16 7-8 23, Jena Heggem 0-4 2-2 2, Michele Van Dyke 3-7 0-0 6, Camille Gardner 3-8 0-0 8, Jaci Heny 4-11 11-12 21, Neesha Bravard 0-0 0-0 0, Ashley Trulock 4-7 4-6 12. Totals: 22-53 24-28.
Halftime: MSUN 38-25. 3-pointers: UMW 3-23 (Kain 1-3, Suhr 1-9, Scott 1-2), MSU-N 4-13 (Gardner 2-4, Heny 2-6). Rebounds: UMW 40 (O'Neil 14), MSU-N 40 (Johnston 15). Fouls: UMW 16, MSU-N 17. Fouled out - O'Neil.