By Kim Staudinger
The Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team is riding a winning streak of their own, winning seven straight to improve to 8-1 on the season.
Hoping to continue the streak, the Lights look to pull off a huge upset Saturday when they travel to Bozeman to take on the Bobcats.
"To win seven in a row is great," Lights' coach Brian Harrell said. "I still don't think we've played our best basketball yet, but it gives us confidence going in."
While this game is big on the court, the game also has a lot riding off the court. Harrell, who was an assistant coach for the Bobcats, returns to the place he called home for five years.
"It's going to be fun to go back to Bozeman and see all the people," he said.
Harrell isn't the only one returning to Bozeman, though. When Harrel was named as the head coach of the Lights, seniors Jermaine Walton and E.J. Little decided to come to Northern as well.
"They're playing against their friends," Harrell said. "They will definitely be ready to play. It will be interesting because there will be a certain amount of pride playing against their friends."
As if the ties weren't strong enough, Uros Mirkovic will be playing against a life-long friend in Damir Latovic, a 6-foot-8 junior forward for the Cats. Both Mirkovic and Latovic are from Yugoslavia, where they grew up together, Harrell said, adding that they have been best friends since childhood.
Harrell also said the game is a big game for the other Montana kids on the team, like Jeff Graham, who has had a huge role on the team so far this season.
Being an assistant for a program for five years, one would think that Harrell would know exactly what the Bobcats game plan will be for Saturday night, but that isn't necessarily the case for this game.
"They've changed things a little this year," Harrell said. "I think I've got a pretty good feel as to how they are going to play. They've always prided themselves in good shooters and they do again this year. They just haven't gotten on track yet, but they've played some really good teams."
Though Harrell has a feeling for what the Cats will do, he said he did not change any of his game plans or strategies for this game.
"We are going to continue what we have been doing all along," he said. "I'm not so much worried about what Montana State will do, but what we will do."
Some NAIA teams may feel pressure going into a game against a Division I team, but Harrell said the pressure should be on the Bobcats for this game.
"I don't think the pressure's on us. The pressure's on Montana State," he said. "We want to go down and play hard and represent our program in a respectable fashion. Obviously playing a Division I team, our guys will get up a little more for that.
"The longer we stay in the game, the better chance we have. If we can hold our own on the boards, it will give us a good chance to win."
The latest national poll released earlier this week also had the Lights ranked 20th, but Harrell said he doesn't put much value into the poll this early in the season.
"It doesn't really mean anything right now other than getting respect and credibility around the country because people are voting for us," he said. "I don't put a lot of stock in that right now. The rankings that count are at the end of the season."
The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Saturday night. After taking on the Cats, the Lights head to Hawaii for a tournament beginning Tuesday.
The Lights will face BYU-Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific in the tournament, which Harrell said are really good teams, who will be stiff competition.
The Hawaii trip is one that Harrell hopes to continue every four or five years so that every player who comes to Northern will get the chance to go. The trip, he said, basically pays for itself as the teams from Hawaii pay for the hotel rooms and give money for food.
The Lights will play on Tuesday and have a break until Friday. Harrell said his team will practice on off days, but will also have a nice chance to enjoy being in Hawaii. The team plans to return on Sunday, the 16th.