News you can use

Frontier Notebook: Lights bench shining bright

Frontier Conference Notebook

It's the halfway point in the Frontier Conference basketball season, and all of a sudden, the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team has pulled a complete 180.

Granted, the Lights enter the second half of league play still at 3-4, but in just two weeks, they've gone from dead last to a five-way tie for fourth place. And Northern did it by knocking off then No. 9 UM-Western, as well as coming back from a 16-point deficit against Westminster College. The icing on the cake was a six-point rally in the final minute last Saturday night in a 60-58 road win at then No. 12 UM-Western.

And in all three games, one of the many improvements the Lights have made is bench play. In particular, Northern has been getting a huge lift from the quartet of red-shirt freshman Dylan Tatarka, senior Pat Jensen, senior Damian Robinson and junior Jermaine Graves. Together, the foursome is averaging a shade over 14 points per game. Add to that, the inspired play of Nikola Ivanovic in the comeback win over Westminster, where he scored five points in a two-minute span when the Lights trailed by 13 points with 12 minutes to go. MSU-N's bench is starting to really bring something special to the fold.

"We always have a great energy on our bench," Tatarka said. "We just stay ready, and when it's our turn, we go in and try to make big plays to help the team."

Tatarka, along with Robinson and Jensen, who has been at Northern for five years, all came up clutch in Northern's win over UGF. Jensen and Tatarka combined for three 3-pointers, while Robinson gave Northern an emotional lift with his tough inside play, and a highlight dunk. Graves also hit a key 3-pointer in the first half. Combined, the foursome scored 24 points, and the Lights needed every one of them in order to pull off the big road win.

"For young kids out there who aren't getting a lot of playing time right now, watch guys like we have on our bench," noted Northern head coach Shawn Huse. "Watch how much energy they bring to the floor when they come in. Watch how ready to go they always are. We just have a bunch of guys on our bench that have great attitudes and you really need that if you're going to be a complete team.

"Guys like Pat and Damian, they are seniors who are prime examples of being total team players," he continued. "They are prime examples of what it means to be unselfish. They, along with the rest of the guys on our bench, aren't worried about their minutes or how many points they are averaging, they are only focused on helping this team win basketball games. They are focused only on being the best players they can be, and they are focused on being ready to go when their number is called. I'm just really proud of all of those guys, and they're doing a great job every night."

Halfway Home

This week indeed marks the stretch run of the Frontier men's and women's seasons. And though seven games, the league has been as advertised.

On the men's side, through four weeks, the leader in the league standings has changed three times. With seven games to go, no one can say they truly have the inside track on the league championship, and therefore, every game the rest of the way will be like a playoff or national tournament game. Currently, Western and UGF are tied for first, but both the Bulldogs and Argos are just one game up on Montana Tech. UGF will have the toughest road to the regular season title, as the Argos play five of their last seven games on the road. Western and Tech have also already gotten road trips to Northern and UGF out of the way. And no one can count out the 3-4 teams either, which include the Lights, Carroll College, Lewis-Clark State and Westminster. And really, even a 2-5 Rocky Mountain College squad isn't out of the picture either.

The women's race is equally as interesting, but it looks like the Westminster Griffins have shrugged off an early home loss to Carroll, and will be the team to beat, yet again. The Griffins have won six straight, and in their last three games, have won nail biters against UGF and Northern, and also blown out nationally ranked LC State.

The Skylights, Argos and Fighting Saints have the best chance of chasing down Westminster, as they all sit one game back. Carroll gets the Griffins in Helena this weekend, and if the Saints could upset Westminster for a second time, they would certainly have a great shot at winning the regular season title. UGF, which has already tied the school record for wins in a season, may be the longest shot, having to play five of its last seven on the road, while Northern will have to win in Salt Lake City to likely have a chance at the regular season crown.

Still, the Frontier women are as good as it gets right now in the NAIA. Five teams ranked in the NAIA Top 25, and a chance to get five to the national tournament. And, combined, those five squads have just 20 losses this season between them. Yes, it's going to be an exciting next four weeks for certain.

Awards Watch

With half of the Frontier season gone, it's time to take a look at who has the best chance to claim the Frontier's postseason honors come March.

As for the women's Player of the Year awards, the race is pretty tight. On the women's side, the slight edge would go to Northern's A'Jha Edwards, who's averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds per game. But UGF's Erin Legel is on pace to lead the Frontier in scoring for the second straight season, while Westminster's Tia Pappas was picked as the Preseason Player of the Year, and she's done nothing to discredit that prediction thus far. Other candidates include, UGF's Lindsey Abramson, who like Edwards, averages a double-double, as well as LC State's Tanis Fuller.

Northern players certainly have the inside track on the women's Defensive Player of the Year Award. That should come down to senior guard Taylor Cummings or Edwards. As for the Newcomer of the Year Award, RMC's Whitney Mitchell is averaging 16 points per game, and should be the leader right now, while Freshman of the Year could go a number of different ways, but Northern's Jacy Thompson and UGF's Stephanie McDonagh are two that are certainly worthy. Northern's Chris Mouat and UGF's Bill Himmelberg are easily the two coaches leading the way right for Coach of the Year honors.

On the men's side, no one thus far is having a better all-around season than Carroll sophomore Zach Taylor. He's averaging a league-best 20 points per game, and he shoots better than 40 percent from three, while dishing out five assists per night. But Taylor isn't alone in the race for the MVP. Tech senior Adam Greger, LC State's Brady Bagby, Westminster's Quincy Bair and LC State's Jacob Wiley all have to be in the discussion right now as well.

Wiley, a former University of Montana Grizzly, is also a front-runner for the Newcomer of the Year award. But that race is packed with talent. Northern's Trevail Lee and Warren Edmonson can both make a strong case for that award, as can Western's Dexter Williams Jr. and LC State's Eric Diouf. The Freshman of the Year Award is wide open, too. UGF's Sigman Farmer III could be the oldest player to ever claim that title, and with the season he's having, he is certainly deserving. Argo teammate Sergio Berkley is also in contention for that honor, as is Carroll forward Oliver Carr and MSU-N's Tatarka. The Coach of the Year award is also wide open at the halfway point, but certainly, UGF's Anthony Owens has to be the leader, along with Montana Tech's Patrick O'Herron.


Reader Comments(0)