Even though the Havre High girls basketball team plays one of the toughest schedules in Class A basketball, for once things have worked out in their favor.
After a tough, three-game weekend last week, the Ponies will finish the regular season by playing their final two games in two weeks. The first of those two games comes on Saturday night when the Ponies travel to Great Falls to take on Class AA No. 4-ranked Great Falls High. Havre will then finish the season a week later in Browning.
"The way the schedule worked out is really good for us," said HHS head coach Dennis Murphy. "We have been tired most of this week after last weekend. It is good that we only have to play one game and it isn't until Saturday."
However, that one game is against the vaunted Bison (11-3). GFH and Havre played a very tightly contested game for three quarters last month in Havre before the Bison pulled away in the fourth quarter for a double-digit win. Havre managed to keep the Bison within reach because of solid defense and timely shooting.
While Murphy knows that his team will score against Great Falls High, he also understands that it will take four quarters of good defense, not three, to get a win on Saturday night.
"We have to hold the Bison to 50 points," Murphy said. "I think we're capable of doing that. But they are so balanced inside, and all of their starting five can produce offensively at a given time. That makes them very difficult to hold down for four quarters."
Indeed, in the first meeting, Havre shut down Renae Stubbs and Lauren Beck, the Bison's premier guards, for the first half. But the Bison still got production from their post players, and the game was close at the half. In the second half Stubbs and Beck both caught fire and, ultimately, it was their outside shooting that did the Ponies in.
"Their guards are both tremendous players," Murphy said. "If we are going to have a chance in this game, we have to keep them off balance. We can't allow them to hurt us badly from the perimeter but we still have to take away some of their inside game.
"The good thing about playing the Bison is that they are very predictable," Murphy added. "They don't change what they do no matter how the game unfolds. So we will be very well prepared to face them on Saturday night."
A win in Great Falls on Saturday would all but ensure that Havre will be the No. 3 seed at the Central A divisional tournament in Havre in two weeks.
The Ponies (11-5) are trailing Browning for third place in the Central A "Kount" system, but a road win over a Class AA school would give Havre more than enough points to push past the Indians. And while Murphy admits that watching the standings is something a coach cannot help, he knows that he must keep his team focused on what is directly in front of it.
"There are so many scenarios of how things could end up between Browning and us," Murphy said. "Right now we are just focused on taking care of the two games we have left and then we'll see where we are."
The game between the Ponies and the Bison is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Swarthout Fieldhouse in Great Falls. It can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.