George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
The Montana State University- Northern women’s basketball team has seen the best of times and the most dif- ficult of times in the last week. Northern was without starting guard Kaylee Shaw last week, and was already without backup point guard Laramie Schwenke, leaving the Skylights with just seven players. And after a devastating loss to Rocky Mountain College on Thursday night, the Skylight’s backs were against the wall. But they responded like a team who has been on a roll, beating Carroll College in Helena on Saturday night to finish tied for second in the Frontier standings at 9-4. And with one final win, and some good luck in a coin toss, the Skylights enter tonight’s first round of the Frontier Conference women’s tournament as the No. 2 seed as they prepare to host UM-Western at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. Northern (18-11) closed the season by winning 15 of its last 19 games, including two over the Bulldogs (8-20). The Skylights beat seventh-seeded Western 54-41 in Dillon and 64-54 just two weeks ago in Havre. Still, MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat knows tonight’s game with Western won’t have anything to do with what happened in the regular season. Tonight’s game also marks the third straight year in which the two teams have met in the postseason. “Western is an excellent team and their record doesn’t speak to how well they have played this year,” Mouat said. “And they (Bulldogs) always play well against us. We know this game is going to be a huge challenge for us, but we’re really excited about what we’ve accomplished this season and we’re really looking forward to being at home for this game.” The Bulldogs indeed have played well all season long despite winning just four conference games. Western is a multi-talented team with a dominant post player in Chloe Mosey, who can not only score and rebound in the paint, but step out and hit 3-pointers as she has proven so many times against Northern. The Bulldogs also have excellent guards in Jamie Lake, Heather Brooks, Genna Rucker and Amanda Lidstrom, not to mention one of the most versatile players in the conference in Alysa Brown. And with a talented lineup, excellent bench play and deadly 3-point shooting, the Bulldogs will present matchup problems for the Skylights tonight, especially if Shaw can’t go. “They (Bulldogs) are very tough to defend, especially because of Chloe Mosey, who can pretty much score from anywhere, and Alysa Brown, who is as talented as anyone in our league and is a tough matchup for us,” Mouat said. “Then, if their shooters get going from the outside, they are really tough to stop. You can’t give them open looks because they make them. So we’re going to have to defend really well. That’s the bottom line against Western, you have to defend.” And luckily for Northern, defense is something the Skylights do very well. MSU-N has the top-rated scoring defense in the league and is among the Top 10 nationally giving up just a shade over 58 points per game. Opponent field goal percentage is very low against Northern, and of course, the Skylights have the NAIA’s top defensive player in senior Stacie Barker, who averages 13 rebounds and five blocks per game to go along with her 12 points per outing. But MSU-N is also a capable offensive team, and as of late, the Skylights have possessed arguably the league’s top offensive player in sophomore guard Samm Schermele. Over her last nine games, Schermele has raised her scoring average almost five full points and she is coming off a career-high 34-point gem at Carroll on Saturday. With backcourt mate Taylor Keller and Barker inside, the Skylights have a trio of players who can certainly put the ball in the hole. But tonight’s game will come down to the usual postseason factors n execution, defense, turnovers and free throws, and Mouat knows his team must play mistake-free basketball if it wants to advance to the Frontier semifinals. “We know we’re going to have to play our best game of the season to win,” Mouat said. “That might seem strange considering the fact that we said that last weekend at Carroll. But that’s the kind of effort it’s going to take to beat Western and move on. And hopefully, we’ll be rested and ready to meet that challenge.” The winner of tonight’s game will face the winner of tonight’s game between third-seeded Lewis-Clark State and sixth-seeded Montana Tech in Lewiston, Idaho. If the Skylights prevail tonight, they will host that game on Friday night. Tonight’s game between Northern and Western will tip off at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.