By Tiffany L. Rehbein
After the furious four games played in five days before the holidays, the Havre Blue Ponies boys' basketball team has had some time to prepare.
The Ponies (3-3) will host the Great Falls High Bison tonight at the Havre High School gymnasium.
"They are a very athletic team that relies on transition," head coach Dennis Murphy said. "That has been their mainstay ever since Coach Lucero has been there."
Because of the fast break style of ball, the Ponies will need to hustle down court defensively.
"We really need to get back on defense," Murphy said. "And, when we get the ball they are going to put some pressure on us."
Havre entered the lengthy Christmas break behind two straight losses. The Ponies fell to District 2B Glasgow 64-52 on the road, and then to Class A rival Lewistown, 73-71.
But the Ponies are at home for only the second time this season and they will be looking for the win.
"I felt that, before the break, we had, in our half-court defense, three guys defending well and two guys taking a break. We need to have five guys who can defend," Murphy said. "
The Ponies are led offensively by senior Ricky Brown, who averages 19.3 points per game.
Senior Landen Grant is also in double figures, averaging 12.2 points per game. Grant, at 6-foot-3, also averages 8.5 rebounds per game. At Lewistown, Grant tore down 12 boards in the effort.
Nate Baltrusch, also a senior, leads the Ponies in assists, averaging 5.7 per game. He also averages 11.2 points per game, and 3.8 steals per contest.
Ryan Fink and Chris Young are also scrappy players in the frontcourt, while Nick Crawford, at 6-foot-3, Cliff Cooper, at 6-foot-4, and Jesse Suek, at 6-foot-3, are big inside.
Sophomore Danny Wirtzberger and junior Scott Rice have come off the bench strong for Havre in the early season.
But Havre fans will see a little different lineup tonight.
Suek, Grant, Cooper, Fink, and Baltrusch will get the start for the Ponies.
With the bigger lineup, the Ponies will focus more on a zone defense.
The Ole Goat is also on the line tonight.
The Bison Fieldhouse has been the home of the Ole Goat since 1991-92. The goat, an encased wood carving done by a deaf mute more than 70 years ago, symbolizes the court master of the Blue Pony-Bison series each season. Whoever sweeps the series houses the goat until the next matchup.
"It's pretty neat," Murphy said, "and it would be nice to get it back. However, my concern is to get a better basketball team on the court than what we now represent. If I had to choose between a the Ole Goat and a trip to the state tournament, I would choose state."
The Bison (1-2) entered the holidays coming off a 31-point drubbing from Helena High.
"They are kind of like corralled colts," Murphy said about the Bison. "They are just itching to get out and run."
Tip-off time is 7:30 p.m.