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Skylights back in the Armory to battle RMC, Carroll

 

February 1, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Hailey Nicholson, right, shoots during a Frontier Conference game last month in Havre. After four straight on the road, the Skylights are back home this weekend as they host nationally ranked Rocky Mountain College tonight and Carroll College Saturday. Both games tip at 6 p.m. inside the Armory Gymnasium.

Playing nationally ranked Frontier Conference rivals is a weekly occurrence for the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team. The Skylights just haven't seen their most recent ranked rivals in what seems like forever.

Northern (2-8, 10-12) opened league play back in November, when the Skylights traveled to Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College, both of which were ranked in the NAIA Top 25 at the time. Now, two months later, the Battlin' Bears and Fighting Saints are finally coming to Havre.

The Skylights begin a four-game homestand tonight when they host No. 21 Rocky at 6 inside the Armory Gymnasium. Northern then takes on No. 8 Carroll Saturday night at 6 p.m.

And while a lot of time, and a lot of games have passed since the Skylights last saw Rocky and Carroll, one thing hasn't changed since that November road trip - both teams are in the NAIA Top 25, and both are really good.

Yet, as good as both teams are, the Skylights are feeling pretty good about themselves right now. Northern has been stung be a series of last-minute, or overtime losses in the last month, five of them to be exact. But, the Skylights return home from a five-game road trip fresh off a win at Montana Tech last Saturday night, and head coach Chris Mouat knows, his team isn't the same team that lost at Carroll and Rocky to start the Frontier season.

"We've been competing at a high level," Mouat said. "We've been putting ourselves in a position to win almost every game, and most of them on the road, in some tough environments. We just have to finish, that continues to be the goal, but our kids have done a great job of continuing to fight, and continuing to play at a level that puts us in a position to win almost every game we've played."

Defensively, Northern is playing really well, allowing just 50 points per game over its last seven outings. And another difference between the Skylights now and in November is MSU-N has a healthy Hailey Nicholson and a healthy Tiara Gilham back in the lineup. After missing two months each with leg injuries, the duo is now averaging a combined 22 points in Frontier play. Add to that the stellar play of leading scorer Peyton Kehr, the inside damage being done by Sydney Hovde, and the continued improvement from senior point guard Gokce Aslan, and the Skylights are a much different team now, than when they first saw Rocky and Carroll.

Still, that doesn't mean Northern won't be up against it this weekend. In fact, it's just the opposite.

The Bears (6-4, 15-7) are a tall, talented and balanced squad, one that averages 70 ppg while allowing just 52 per night. Rocky is led by Alecia Chamberlain's 13 ppg (5-10), but the Bears also get tons of inside help from the likes of Justyn Juhl (6-0), Markaela Francis (6-0) and Alyssa Big Man (5-10), while freshman guard Kloie Thatcher (5-7) has also been coming on strong for head coach Wes Keller's team.

"Well, they're really good," Mouat said of the Bears. "They're one of the best shooting teams in the country. They're incredibly balanced. Defensively, they're as good as anyone in our league. And they do a great job on the boards. They've had some big wins against really good teams, and they have continued to play at a high level all season long. So we know we'll have our hands full."

Having their hands full is what the Skylights will be saying on both nights in the Armory this weekend. That's because Carroll (7-3, 15-6) is the back end of Northern's home doubleheader, and the Fighting Saints are one of the top teams in the NAIA.

"It starts with their size and their offensive rebounding," Mouat said of the Saints. "They are great defensively, they get after you, and they are operating with a high level of confidence right now. Hannah Dean is playing at a really high level, too, she's a veteran, an All-American and she has a ton of great weapons around her. They're just a very complete team."

Dean (6-1) is the catalyst with her 14 points and seven rebounds per night. But, Carroll is a deep squad that also has standouts like Chistine Denny (5-9), Brittney Johnson (5-7) and Jaiden Lyman (5-3), who all score between seven and 10 points per night.

Of course, also coming to the Armory with the Saints is former Havre Blue Pony star Dani Wagner. She's blossomed into one of Carroll's top players on both ends of the floor, as she's averaging eight points and five rebounds per night, while shooting a remarkable 94 percent from the free-throw-line.

"Dani is having a great year," Mouat said. "She's shooting the lights out this year. She's so tough and she does so many things to help them win. She's playing great, and she's a handful for us, and for everybody else."

The Saints, and the Bears will be a handful for the Skylights, but, with how Northern has played the entire month of January, the Skylights will be a handful for Carroll, Rocky and everyone else in the Frontier in this final month of the season.

"We're staying focused on the big picture right now," Mouat said. "And that is to keep putting ourselves in the positions we've been in lately. We're playing well, and we want to continue to play well. We want play a clean game for 40 minutes, that's the goal. These are big games for us, especially with them coming at home, and we want to make sure we go out and continue to play at a high level, like we have been the last few weeks."

Tonight's game between Northern and Rocky tips at 6, as does Saturday's bout between the Skylights and Fighting Saints. Northern will remain in the Armory for games against Providence next Wednesday and Montana Tech next Friday.

Skylights (2-8, 10-12) vs #21 RMC (6-4, 15-7) tonight at 6 p.m.; vs #8 Carroll (7-3, 15-6) Saturday at 6 p.m.

In Armory Gymnasium

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Skylights Projected Starters

G Gokce Aslan, 5-3, Sr., 7 ppg

G Allix Goldhahn, 5-8, Fr., 7 ppg

G Peyton Kehr, 5-10, So., 14 ppg

F Hailey Nicholson, 5-10, Jr., 11 ppg

F Sydney Hovde, 6-0, So., 10 ppg

 

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