Having to face Class AA programs is never easy for the Havre High boys basketball team, but with this weekend’s matchups could be especially challenging for the Blue Ponies. Tonight at the Havre High gymnasium the Central A Ponies (3-4, 6-6) will host the CMR Rustlers at 7. And on Saturday the Ponies will travel to Great Falls where they will face the Bison at 4:30 p.m. “We just got off a tough road trip,” Havre high head coach Andy Smith said. “And it’s one of those things that just doesn’t get any easier. We have a huge challenge this weekend and we have to get the mindset that we have to compete for the full 32 minutes. We can’t take a play off and get out hustled. We have to bear down and compete.” In the Ponies and Rustlers first meeting the Rustlers handed HHS a dominating 78-48 loss on the road. And it wasn’t to say the Ponies didn’t play well, they just don’t have the size to match up to likes of the Rustlers lineup. “They are just a really tough team to match up with,” Smith said. “Even their guards are big. But we are going to have to try and match up with them a little bit more and try to keep a body on them.” It was clear that the Ponies' zone defense wasn’t effective against the Rustlers. So tonight the Ponies are going to take a man-to-man approach. The No. 2 Rustlers size makes them hard to matchup with, but it also makes them dominant on the boards. The Pones have to once again play tough defense, but when they make the Rustlers put up a shot, the Blue Ponies have to limit the second chance opportunities. Big, 6-7 Kurtis Parsons and 6-8 Josh Huestis cause the most trouble for opposing programs. And if the Ponies big men can take them down a notch it would improve their chances immensely. “I know it’s a big task,” Smith said. “But we just have to do a better job of keeping them (Parsons/Huestis) off the boards for offensive rebounds. They are very tough and we have make sure where they are at all times, we just have to keep them off the boards.” But as important as it is to keep the Rustlers from racking up offensive rebounds, it is just as important for the Ponies offense to find a way to get second chance opportunities if their own. Thane Gray, Anfernee Standing Rock and Drew Kafka need to have big games on both sides of the ball as the Pony big men. If the HHS offense struggles, their rebounding will play a big role. The CMR defense is also going to force the Ponies offense to play smarter with the ball. They have to play more patient and they can’t force up desperate shots. It will be key for the Ponies not to waste any opportunity. “It’s tough to get offensive rebounds against them because they do such a good job,” Smith said. “They have the size on us so we really have to make each possession count as far as not settling and taking good shots. Our shot selection has to be as good as it has been all year.” Guard play will also be key for the Ponies. The Rustlers love to apply pressure around the perimeter and are very good at it. With Huestis playing down low the Rustlers can bring the pressure and not worry about the Ponies getting through or cutting backdoor. Havre's C.J. Evans, Logan Connor and Brandon Smith handle the ball the majority of the time and will have to work against the Rustlers pressure. It will be a task for them to not only create high percentage shots for themselves, but others as well. On Saturday the Ponies will take to the road where they will face another Great Falls team in the Bison. But unlike the Rustlers, the Bison don’t tower over the Ponies. Both teams match up relatively well, and it showed when the Ponies fell to the Bison 69-68 in overtime in their first meeting. “It was a game where it could have gone either way,” Smith said. “We felt like we matched up pretty well against them. And even though we played them well at home, we know going down there is always tough. Great Falls High is always a tough gym to play in so we know that we are really going to have to bring a good defensive effort.” Defense will play a big role in Saturday’s contest. The first time around the Ponies' defense struggled to come up with stops late in the game. This time around the defense has to step up their play and change that. Dribble penetration by the Bison’s guards also hurt the Ponies, and will play a major role. Santino Williams exposed the HHS's weakness with 27 points and will have to be contained. He found clear paths to the basket, and also created shots for others when the defense collapsed. If the Ponies can contain Williams and the dribble penetration chances are it will be another tight matchup. And if that’s the case, the Ponies defense will be the biggest factor in whether or not they return to Havre with a win or loss. In both games for the Ponies it’s going to take good play by the entire lineup to give themselves a chance. Connor has shot very well as of late. As others on the roster have struggled in the last few games he has picked up the slack. Two out of the last three games Connor has led the scoring, putting up 20 against Malta and 24 against Belgrade. But as good as Connor’s play has been, it’s going to take a good weekend by the Ponies' seniors. “That’s exciting to see because we need more guys to step up,” Smith said. “But the seniors need to contribute more. I am putting it on their shoulders because they have to come up a little bit bigger than they have if we want to beat these tougher teams. The seniors have to play well.” Evans is averaging 16.8 points per game while Gray is averaging 12.9. And a good couple of games by both would be huge for the Ponies this late in the season. Gray will be key in both games, but more so against the Rustlers. He needs to continue to play hard, but also avoid foul trouble. And matching up against Huestis tonight, Gray has to remain a force inside. “He (Gray) needs to know the situation and get a feel for how the refs are calling the game," Smith said. “He has to make adjustments to his play. And he’s got to keep doing what he has been doing all year. He needs to be aggressive inside not matter what. Huestis can really make kids change their shot, but Gray just hast to continue to play. If he gets blocked he gets blocked, he just has to continue to take it at him.” Tonight at the Havre High gymnasium the Ponies will host the Rustlers at 7. And on Saturday the Ponies will face the Bison in Great Falls at 4:30 p.m.
Vaunted Rustlers come to Havre tonight
Havre High boys host CMR tonight, visit GFH on Saturday
Published: Thursday, January 28th, 2010
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