Nikki Tresch is a pure shooter. It's what she does and what she's really good at. And coming into this week's Frontier Conference home stand, Tresch was averaging over 16 points per game, and was one of the top 3-point shooters in the Frontier conference.
However, in a close, 59-56 win over the Dickinson State Blue Hawks on Thursday night in Havre, Tresch was bottled up by the DSU defense, as she was held to seven points and no three's. Of course, as a senior leader Tresch helped the Skylights win in other ways, as she always does, but as a scorer, Thursday night wasn't her night.
Fast forward 24 hours though, and Tresch went right back to doing what she does best – and that's impacting a game with big long-range shots.
In the second half of Friday night's win over the Rocky Mountain College Battlin' Bears at the Armory Gymnasium, Tresch was the one who blew the game wide open.
It took until the 13:04 mark of the second half of the second weekend before Tresch made her first three of the home stand. For a shooter like her, that's a long time to go without one going in. But once the first one did, the flood gates opened. Tresch would go on to bury which would put her Skylights up by 11 points, then 14 points and finally an insurmountable 17 points.
It was an impressive and impactful performance by the sharp shooter from Glenrock, Wyo., and it came it a crucial time as the Skylights were able to complete an impressive two-game sweep at home.
"It felt good for a few two go in," Tresch, who scored a game-high 18 points on Friday night said. "It was good to start hitting some shots from the outside, and it's always a good feeling to know you help your team out. So it felt really good."
And Tresch was good all the way around. She went 6-of-9 from the floor, 2-of-2 from the free-throw-line and 4-of-6 from distance. She also had two assists and two steals, and most importantly, she catapulted her Skylights into the upper echelon of the Frontier standings.
"It felt good for the team to really get rolling offensively, like we did tonight," Tresch said. "And it was great to get two wins at home. With how tough our conference is, you have to win at home, and we feel really good that we did that this weekend."
This past week marked the first full week of the new-look Frontier Conference, and while the schedule has changed, and is down-right confusing, it was business as usual for the MSU-Northern men's and women's basketball teams.
Four games in 48 hours in the Armory Gymnasium, and two things were constant – four wins and two big crowds.
Even without the MSU-N student body, as winter break wasn't quite over this past weekend, attendance was high for Northern's games against DSU and RMC. On both nights, the newly remolded Armory saw large crowds gather for the games, and that is something that has really been trending in recent years.
As for the games themselves, the Lights and Skylights made it a perfect 4-0 on the weekend, something Northern is doing more and more often.
Going back to the 2011-12 season, the Lights and Skylights have swept two-game, Frontier home stands five times in the last eight chances. The Northern men have now swept Frontier opponents at home 10 straight times dating all the way back to the 2010-11 season.
Bench rises up
Another consistent factor in MSU-N's four wins this past weekend was bench play.
The MSU-Northern women got excellent contributions from junior Maurisha McKissic and Kassie Barta this past weekend. Against DSU, Barta nailed a crucial go-ahead 3-pointer in the first half, and wound up scoring five points in the win over RMC. McKissic gave the Skylights solid minutes against RMC, including a strong first-half spurt. She wound up finishing the game with seven points, and averaged five points and three rebounds over the weekend.
On the men's side, the Lights' bench stepped up big in wins over DSU and Rocky.
Corbin Pearson, despite being ill, averaged seven points in the two wins, while Alfie Miller made a combined five three's and scored a total of 19 points in the two wins. Savion Udeh also came in to really give the Lights a lift on Thursday night, scoring seven points and making a critical three against the Blue Hawks.
And then there was junior point guard Mike LaValley.
LaValley gave the Lights a huge spark in Friday night's victory over RMC. He hit two key triples in the first half, and stuck a dagger in the Bears with a long-range three in the second half. That shot came just as the Bears were starting to make a run, and had closed the gap to four points just minutes before LaValley's third three of the night. He finished the game 3-for-3 from the arc and had nine points.
"The first thing to credit tonight is our bench," MSU-N head coach Shawn Huse said after the win over RMC. "Our bench has been playing really well, and we had guys come in ready to go tonight. If you're going to be successful in this league, you have to have a solid bench, and I thought all of those guys came in and really did a great job tonight."
Moving on up
With wins over the Blue Hawks and the Bears this weekend, the Lights and Skylights planted themselves at or near the top of the Frontier standings.
The Lights (15-2, 3-0) are one half game behind Lewis-Clark State for first in the league standings. The Warriors, who beat UM-Western Saturday night in Lewiston, Idaho, are 4-0 in league play. Northern also has an early lead on league favorite Westminster, which lost at Montana Tech Saturday night. The Lights play at Western Thursday and Westminster Saturday, and Northern should make a jump in the new NAIA Coaches Poll, which comes out Monday afternoon.
The Skylights (10-5, 2-1) are currently part of a three-way tie for second in the Frontier, as Tech and RMC are also 2-1. Westminster and Carroll College are tied atop the standings at 3-0.
And while it's early in conference play, this weekend's sweep at home by both the Skylights and Lights was certainly a big step in the right direction.
MSU-Northern's Alfie Miller, left, and Corbin Pearson, right, collapse on an RMC player during Friday night's Frontier men's game at the Armory Gymnasium. The Lights' bench was crucial in two wins over the weekend.