Emotion. In basketball, it can be a double-edged sword. Emotion can carry a team to victory, or it can hinder it’s performance.
However, one way or another, the next two nights at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse will be emotional. That’s because the Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team is playing its final two home games of the 2011 season, and that means seniors Samm Schermele and Taylor Keller are seeing their last days in a gym they’ve become famous for playing in over the last four years.
And Northern is hoping emotion will be of the good kind tonight and Saturday, the kind that fires a team up, the kind that carries a team through difficult times. Because what’s ahead of the Skylights (4-8, 13-15) this weekend are a pair of NAIA national powerhouses. Tonight, Northern faces No. 9 Westminster College at 6. Then, one tough game turns to another when the Skylights welcome in No. 10 Lewis-Clark State for their regular season finale on Saturday night.
“Two very good teams coming in here,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat, who earned his 100th win at Northern when the Skylights thrashed Carroll College last Saturday in Helena said. “And it will be an emotional weekend for us. It’s not going to be easy to say goodbye to two players like Samm and Taylor, two players that mean so much to me, to this program, to this school and to this community. But we also understand we have two big games at home. Two more chances to play well, to get better and take our best shot at the two premier teams in our league. So that’s where our focus is.”
Both games this weekend will be an uphill battle for the Skylights, for different reasons.
Tonight’s game with the first-place Griffins (10-2, 23-5) will be a test of Northern’s defense and quickness. Westminster is a high-octane, score early- score often team, and the Griffins are equally adept at shooting the three as they are at getting out in transition. And with star guards like Allie Eastman, Dani Evans and Nicole Yazzie, and an ultra-athletic 6-0 post in Michelle Pace, the Griffins can hurt a team in a variety of ways, just as they did to the Skylights in a 66-53 win last month in Salt Lake City.
“Where they really hurt us is in transition,” Mouat said of the Griffins. “They get out and run, and they run off made baskets and rebounds, they are just really good in transition, so we absolutely can’t let them just have layups all night. But they also shoot the three well, and they defend. And they make you pay for your mistakes with threes. They are just a powerful, complete team.”
Complete indeed. The Griffins can lock up the Frontier’s regular season title tonight in Havre, but not if the Skylights have something to say about it. Schermele has will likely move into third on the all-time scoring list at Northern this weekend, and she comes into her final two regular season games averaging a Frontier best 18.7 points per game. Meanwhile, having Keller back for the remainder of the season (after suffering a knee injury back in December) has been a blessing for Northern. And sophomore Jordan Bruursema had two solid outings in the post last weekend for Northern. So the Skylights certainly can match Westminster tonight.
And they can match the Warriors (9-3, 23-4) on Saturday night too. But it will take a different kind of effort.
LC State is a big team, with Jasmine Stohr (5-10), Alyssa Fierro (6-2) and Kirsi Voshell (6-3) dominating on the inside. And on the boards, the Warriors hounded the Skylights in their win last month in Lewiston, Idaho. But LC State isn’t one dimensional. Head coach Brian Orr’s teams play trademark pressure defense, and the Warriors have outstanding guards in Kenna Reiter and Tasha Bishop. So stopping LC is almost impossible. Instead, for Northern to be successful, the Skylights have to do what they do well, defend and make shots. Make free throws and take care of the ball.
“They (Warriors) are a team which gives us a lot of problems inside obviously,” Mouat said. “And you cannot just let them beat you up on the boards all night, which they do very well. So we have to stand up to them physically as best we can on the inside. And we have to execute our offense. We have to make shots, because they defend so well, and they rebound so well, you have to take advantage of your offensive opportunities when they come. That will be key for us. But they are very, very good. There’s a reason they’ve only lost four games all season.”
While the Skylights won’t likely have a chance to finish any higher than sixth in the Frontier, they still have plenty to play for. Not only do they want to improve their seeding in next week’s Frontier tournament, but they want to make sure they are playing well going into the postseason. And they want to send their beloved two senior guards out on a high note.
“Samm and Taylor are great competitors, they are as competitive as anybody I’ve coached and they just want to win,” Mouat said. “They just want to help their team win games, and they would trade all the individual accomplishments they’ve earned over the years for wins. And I really admire them for that. And I know they want to go out with a bang this weekend.
“And we look at this weekend as a great opportunity for us,” he added. “We have a chance to go out on our home floor, in front of our home fans we love playing in front of so much, and try and beat to great teams. So we’re going to do our best to seize that opportunity.”
Tonight’s game between the Skylights and Griffins tips off at 6 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. Northern and LC State square off at 6 p.m. Saturday night, where Schermele and Keller will be honored before the game.
All Northern home games can be heard locally on 92.6 KPQX FM.