The Frontier Conference playoff format is new this season, with only six teams qualifying for the postseason. And that makes what the Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team did over the course of the regular season so remarkable.
Not only did the Skylights battle their way to an 8-8 record in league play, including winning four tough road games, but they secured a fourth-place finish, and not just a playoff berth, but a home game in the first round as well.
That home game will take place tonight when the Skylights (16-12) host the No. 5 seed Rocky Mountain College Battlin’ Bears (10-19) at 7 inside the Armory Gymnasium. The winner of tonight’s game will advance to the semifinals at either top-seeded Westminster or second-seeded Carroll College on Friday night.
And tonight’s game is a rematch of a game which took place just last Thursday night. MSU-N traveled to Billings and was beaten by the Bears 66-60. The Skylights also have a 64-46 win over RMC early in January, but Northern head coach Chris Mouat said the Bears are much improved from the team that came to Havre last month.
“They have improved,” Mouat said. “And they’re playing really well right now. They’ve really played well down the stretch. I have a lot of respect for what Brian (Henderson) has done with his team this season. As we saw just last week, we’re going to have our hands full on Tuesday night.”
The Bears are led by sharp-shooting guard Brittany Kumm, who averages 12 points per game and has made 60 3-pointers this season. Rocky also has the leading rebounder in the league in Brittany Meyers, who averages 10 points and nine boards. Meyers (5-11) leads the Frontier in double-doubles this season. Rocky also gets good production from lightning-quick players like Haleigh Crknovich and Kalli McCloskey.
“Their team speed, team quickness is a real challenge to execute against,” Mouat said. “And we didn’t do a good enough job of that last week. We have to limit their transition game and we have to limit them getting to the rim. We have to be much better on defense than we were last week. And against their pressure, we have to execute much better if we’re going to slow them down on both ends of the floor.”
Despite losing to RMC just a few days ago, the Skylights should come into tonight's game with confidence. Northern won a huge road game Saturday night at Dickinson State, which helped lock up the No. 4 seed. MSU-N is also getting good balance of late. Seniors Jordan Bruursema and Nikki Tresch average almost 13 points each, but Laci Keller and Kylee Denham can score in double figures any time, and Taylor Cummings has hit double-digits in her last two games, and is shooting really well from the three.
Northern should also be confident being at home in the playoffs. The Skylights have had several home playoff games under Mouat, including just last season when they advanced to the semifinals. And while tonight’s game with Rocky will certainly be a battle, MSU-N appears ready.
“I think the kids are excited,” Mouat said. “This is the time of year when it’s win or go home. We’re excited about what we’ve done this season and we’re excited to be playing this game at home in front of our great fans.”
Tonight’s Frontier Conference women’s playoff game between Northern and Rocky will tip off at 7 at the Armory Gymnasium. The MSU-Northern men host Great Falls on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Skylights (16-12) vs RMC (10-19) tonight at 7 p.m., in the Armory Gymnasium
Radio: 92.5 KPQX FM
MSU-N Probable Starters
G Nikki Tresch, 5-5, Sr.
G Taylor Cummings, 5-5, So.
G Kylee Denham, 5-7, Sr.
F Jordan Bruursema, 6-0, Sr.
F Laci Keller, 6-0, Jr.