The Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team has ascended to some exciting heights this season. And defense has been the name of the game.
However, as good as the Skylights are on that end of the floor, they'll get one of their most stern tests of the season tonight. The No. 17 Skylights (5-2, 15-4) host rival University of Great Falls tonight at 6 inside the Armory Gymnasium.
The Argos (2-4, 12-7) come into tonight's game with a potent offense and the top two individual scorers in the Frontier Conference, while Northern will counter with the NAIA's top-rated defense.
"This game will be a huge challenge for us," Northern head coach Chris Mouat said. "They (Argos) are very explosive. They have two of the best players in the league. And they are much-improved around those two. This will be a big game for us."
In fact, it's always a big game when the Skylights and Argos hook up. But with UGF averaging 80 points per game, and the Skylights holding teams to a paltry 49 points per outing, tonight's game has all the makings of a great one.
And while Northern has dominated the series of late, the Argos are a different team this season, at least offensively. Sophomore guard Erin Legel (5-5) averages a Frontier best 19 points per game while shooting 38 percent from the field, 37 percent from the 3-point-line and 91 percent from the foul line. Legel has scored 30 points twice this season and has yet to be held under 10. But Legel isn't just a scorer, she's also a distributor. She may lead the league in scoring, but she also leads it in assists, averaging seven dimes per contest.
And a big part of why Legel is so good at getting assists is 6-2 junior teammate Lindsey Abramson. The UGF center is second in the Frontier in scoring at 18 points per game, while she's first in the conference, averaging 12 rebounds per night. She completes the triple threat by leading the conference in blocked shots as well. And she presents an intriguing matchup with Northern junior A'Jha Edwards, who averages 12 points per game, and is second to Abramson with her 11 boards per outing.
"Erin and Lindsey are two of the best players in our conference," Mouat said. "They both can score points in bunches, and the fact that they are a guard-forward combo, it makes UGF very tough to defend. Our defense will have its hands full with them."
The Argos aren't just about Legel and Abramson either. Shooting guard Darah Huertas-Vining is coming off a 30-point game in a 90-67 win over Dickinson State last weekend, while guard Taylor Statton chips in with 10 points per game.
But as good as UGF is offensively, the Skylights can counter with their own offensive output. Northern lost last Saturday night at Carroll College, but the Skylights piggy back their great defense with plenty of talent on the offensive end.
Junior Rachelle Bennett is second on the team in scoring, averaging nine points per game, but overall, MSU-N is well balanced. Taylor Cummings and freshman Natalee Faupel each average just under nine points per night, while Kassie Barta is Northern's deadliest 3-point shooter. Megan Feldman has been giving the Skylights, who are also the top rebounding team in the Frontier, a boost on both ends of the floor, while the return of Kacie McKeon from an ankle injury has certainly added to Northern's scoring punch.
Still, as good as Northern can be on offense, stopping the Argos' high-scoring act will be the priority tonight. Mouat knows just how explosive UGF is, and playing great defense, as the Skylights have done for almost all of this season, will be key if MSU-N is to hold serve at home.
"It will be a big challenge for us," Mouat said. "They (Argos) have a lot of firepower. They are fast and they try to make you play fast. They are having a very good season, and they come in here playing really well right now.
"For us, we just have to make sure we're ready to go on both ends of the floor," he continued. "We have to be productive on offense, as well as on defense. We need to be ready to play a complete game."
Tonight's game between MSU-N and UGF tips off at 6 in the Armory Gymnasium. It's the first of back-to-back rivalry games between the Skylights and Argos. The two teams will square off again next Thursday in Great Falls.
No. 17 Skylights (5-2, 15-4) vs Great Falls (2-4, 12-7) tonight at 6 p.m. in the Armory Gymnasium
Radio: 92.5 KPQX FM
MSU-N Probable Starters
G Taylor Cummings, 5-5, Jr. 9 ppg
G Rachelle Bennett, 5-7, Jr. 9 ppg
F Natalee Faupel, 5-10, Fr. 9 ppg
F Megan Feldman, 6-0, Jr. 6 rpg
C A'Jha Edwards, 6-5, Jr. 12 ppg