By Kim Staudinger
The Montana State University-Northern men's and women's basketball teams are in need of some luck of its own this weekend in hopes of ending its recent losing streaks conference play.
If the Skylights have ever needed a win, tonight's game against Carroll is it. The Skylights (15-5) have lost three games in a row, but remain nationally ranked.
"We can't lose anymore," Skylights head coach Kevin Emerick said. "We have to win these games."
The Lady Saints from Carroll bring a local connection to tonight's matchup. Former Big Sandy players Jennifer Curl, Charla Ray and Sasha Ritter return to the Hi-Line along with Chester native Carly VanDyke. Emerick said Curl will be one of the keys to the game as the Skylights learned from playing Carroll at the Frontier Conference Tip-Off Tournament in early December.
But Curl isn't the only important part of the Saints game.
"They really don't have a weakness," Emerick said, noting Carroll's shooting strengths and on defense. "They are solid from positions one through five. They really don't have a weakness anywhere."
Jennifer Driscoll, Melissa Maloy and Nikki McElligott are other players to look for tonight. Carroll is currently second in the Frontier standings at 12-10 overall and 4-2 in conference play. The Skylights are fifth at 15-5 and 2-3.
Saturday the Skylights will face Rocky Mountain College. Rocky is seventh in the conference with a 12-11 overall record and 2-4 in conference play. Rocky is coming off a big win over Lewis-Clark State last weekend.
Emerick said Rocky, like Carroll, is also very talented and doesn't have many weaknesses, if any. Knowing that, Emerick said his players need to stop committing so many turnovers, eliminate the unforced errors and take care of the basketball.
For both weekend games the Skylights will start Miranda Weiser, Angee Thomas, Paula Owens, Tamecia Watkins and Jenny Balgua in hopes of getting off to a fast start with the quicker lineup on the court. Emerick said the team started this way against Western and was very successful with it early in the game.
"These games are so critical," Emerick said. "Because we go right back on the road again to (Lewis-Clark State) and Westminster. We can't afford to lose these."
Lights head coach Brian Harrell is also looking for a turnaround from his team this weekend. But his road will be difficult facing Carroll, who is undefeated in conference play.
"They're all big this time of year," Harrell said. "We have to take it one game at a time."
With the recent losses, Harrell said he hopes his players realize the need to pay attention to detail.
"We are looking forward to being at home and getting back on track," he said. "This is a crucial week for us. We need to play well at home."
The men's team for Carroll also has a connection to the Hi-Line. Malta's Kirk Stiles and R.J. Tollefson are on the Saints' roster.
Stiles, along with Great Falls native Brian Lynch and Fairfield's Shane Gamradt, will be key to the ballgame.
"He can really get it going," Harrell said of Stiles, a long-range sharp-shooter. "We hope to make him work for everything he gets."
Along with two great three-point shooters, the Saints are also tough under the basket.
Northern senior forward Josh Hays will be crucial for the Lights on the low blocks.
"I think we need to get it to Josh more," Harrell said, noting Hays' currently leads the conference in field-goal percentage at 72.31. Getting the ball inside to Hays first will help to open up shots on the perimeter for the Lights and "good things happen when we kick it back out," Harrell said.
Rocky, a team who has only one win in conference play and five total on the season, is the Lights opponent for Saturday night.
"Rocky's a scary team, they're pretty talented," Harrell said. "They have a couple of big kids and have some guys who can shoot the ball. We will have a tough time defending them, too."
Rocky played Lewis-Clark State close, a team who handily defeated the Lights Jan. 5, and has been playing well of late, which also makes them a scary opponent.
"They are very capable of beating anybody on a given night," Harrell said.
But perhaps even more interesting is the return of former KG player Jake Stuart, who transferred to the Billings school from the University of Montana last fall.
Stuart and Lights freshman Jeff Graham from Chester faced each other frequently in high school ball and should matchup well together Saturday. Harrell also has had the chance to get to know Stuart when he would come to camps in Bozeman.
"Jake's a good kid and a class act," Harrell said. "On top of that, he's a great player.
The women's games are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. each night with the men's games to follow at 8.