By Kim Staudinger
GREAT FALLS While the Montana State University-Northern Skylights haven't been playing their best basketball of late, they took an impressive winning streak to the road Friday at the University of Great Falls Invitational Tournament.
The Skylights' two wins this weekend weren't the most convincing wins of the season, but, according to Northern head coach Kevin Emerick, two wins are two wins.
"We were just really poor," he said, noting the fundamentals like boxing out were what his team really struggled with. "We have a lot of things to work on this week."
The Skylights' first win came Friday night against Westminster, 67-62. Northern took a two-point lead going into the half, and outscored Westminster 33-30 in the second half to seal the win.
Szudia Bragg led the Skylights with 16 points, followed by 14 each from Megan Woolf and Angee Thomas.
Northern shot the ball well, making 24-of-48 shots from the field and 12-of-18 foul shots. The Skylights also shot 37 percent from three-point range.
Westminster shot 40 percent from the field and 54.5 (6-of-11) percent from three-point range. Westminster was also perfect from the free-throw line, making all 10 attempts.
Saturday's matchup for the Skylights saw their rival, UGF Argos. The first time these two teams met, the Skylights won by 40 points. But Coach Emerick knew the game would be different the second time around.
"We knew we were going to have a tough game," he said. "They played much better" than the first time.
Paula Owens, who was named to the UGF Classic All-Tournament Team, led Northern with 16 points, including a made shot and free throw to tie the game with 14:20 remaining.
Sarah Gaugler was sent to the line one minute later and made 1-of-2 to give the Skylights the lead.
"She gave us a lift," Emerick said about Gaugler. "She came in again and gave us a spark. She plays hard."
Owens added a made basket 20 seconds later, giving Northern a 48-45 lead. But the Argos weren't done as senior guard Deena Wisneiwski made two free throws with 5:22 to go to tie the game at 58.
Jenny Balgua, who is still nursing a tender ankle, responded with a huge three-pointer at the 4:56 mark, giving the Skylights the lead for good. The closest the Argos would get would be seconds later as Kim Freeman drained a basket to cut the lead to 61-60.
Great Falls had its chances as Freeman missed two free throws 20 seconds later and the Argos missed two more shots from the field in the next minute, leaving Northern clinging to the slim one-point lead. But Northern scored six straight points, capped by Angee Thomas' (13 points) wide open lay-up with 50 seconds left in the game. Owens also added two free throws in the short run.
After being fouled by Nichole Neill, Wisneiwski made two foul shots and one second later, Carlane Jensen tipped an inbounds pass to Freeman, who scored an easy two points, cutting the Northern lead to 67-64.
Forced to foul, Great Falls sent Miranda Weiser to the line twice, where she made 3-of-4 to seal the victory for the Skylights.
Tamecia Watkins also added 13 points for Northern, followed by Balgua (8), Gaugler (6) and Woolf and Weiser each with five.
Freeman led all scorers with 23 points for the Argos. Chinook native Erin Acra added eight and Wisneiwski, Jensen and Karen Sauvola each scored seven.
Northern was down by as much as eight late in the first quarter, but battled back to cut the lead to 39-34 at the half. The Skylights fell behind again early in the second as Acra made a basket to give Great Falls a 43-34 lead. Balgua responded once again, hitting a three-point shot to cut the lead to six. Gaugler scored the next five points to pull the Skylights to within three. Owens and Gaugler combined for the next six points, giving Northern the edge.
Along with Owens, Thomas was also named to the all-tourney team for the Skylights.
"I think that's great," Emerick said about two of his players being named to the team. "They carried us those two games. They could have easily put Tamecia on the team as well. There are a lot of good players there.
"Angee had a great weekend offensively. Paula's just steady. That's a senior for you."
The Skylights are in action at the Frontier Conference Tip-Off Tournament beginning Thursday through Saturday.