Skylights face tough competition on first road trip
No offense to Grant MacEwen College, but the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team can't play like it did two weeks ago and expect to win this weekend.
After opening up the season with a pair of sloppy wins over the Warriors, the Skylights will head east for the Minot State Invitational tournament in Minot, N.D.
Northern will take on Jamestown College tonight at 6 and face the host Beavers on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Head coach Mike Erickson would never criticize Grant MacEwen, but even he had to admit his team is facing a little better competition this weekend.
"We know that from here on out, we're going to be tested every weekend," he said. "We have to come out and execute right away. We can't rely on our athleticism to win games like we did in the first two."
The execution Erickson needs wasn't apparent against Grant MacEwen. After watching his team turn the ball over 70 times in two games, Erickson has preached, pleaded and begged his team to take care of the ball. And in practice they have seemed to respond.
"We have cut our turnovers way down in practice," he said. "The ladies know our turnovers are from our own mistakes. Most of the time we were trying too hard to make that good pass, or make that tough play."
The ambition isn't bad. Erickson just needs his team to err on the side of caution a little more.
Especially since their opponents' philosophies are based on creating turnovers. Jamestown is a small, quick team that will pressure Northern from end line to end line.
"They're going to full-court press us and use their quickness since they aren't very big," Erickson said. "They're well coached and are very scrappy."
Jamestown doesn't have a senior on its roster and is led by guards Jennifer Maus and sophomore Laura White
The Minot State Beavers, coached by former Skylight guard Sheila Green, play much like their coach used to - in your face with nonstop hustle and football-player intensity.
"That's all they do is pressure you," Erickson said of the Beavers, whom he scouted earlier in the year. "They're in your face, pressuring the ball and trying to force turnovers. We have to take care of the ball."
The Beavers are 3-1 on the season and led by former Malta standout LeAnn Pekovitch along with guards Andrea Sebelius and Jenn Sundahl.
While Erickson likes to know a few things about his opponents, he doesn't get too caught up in scouting reports this early in the season.
"I'm not big on breaking down film on opponents," Erickson said. "I'm concerned on breaking down what we need to do to win. We have to perfect what we have before we even worry about what they are going to do."
One thing that should help the Skylights in terms of on-court poise and overall performance is the return of senior point guard Anna Bateman from injury. Bateman, who has battled foot problems since last year, is the unquestioned leader of the Skylights. She brings not only leadership but some much needed offense with her outside shooting presence.
"Anna made a speedy recovery," Erickson said. "She has no pain in her foot, which is good. She's practiced all week and the difference when she is on the floor is unreal."
Still, Erickson can't get too greedy. He knows that Bateman still has some rust and that playing her too much too soon would only make her more susceptible to injury.
"We aren't going to start her," he said. "We are only going to utilize her when we need to. It's still going to take some time to get her where she needs to be."
Instead, the Skylights will rely on defense and rebounding, the two things that can carry them if the offense isn't clicking.
"We put in our full-court pressure and that should make a difference," Erickson said. "Our defense and rebounding must be a constant this weekend. The Minot Dome is a tough place to shoot in, so our defense and rebounding need to be a mainstay to carry us if our shots aren't falling."