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Unbeaten Skylights expecting a trio of challenges in Phoenix


December 17, 2019

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Reilly Walsh, left, and the Montana State University-Northern Skylights play three games in three days at this week's Frontier Phoenix Challenge in Phoenix, Arizona. The Skylights start their trip Wednesday against Northern New Mexico, then play Bethel of Tennessee on Thursday and Benedictine Mesa of Arizona on Friday.

What a start its been for the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team. With the new year almost here, the No. 14 Skylights are unbeaten on the season, and are just off of a perfect start to Frontier Conference play.

Yes, life is good inside the Armory Gymnasium right now.

And yet, Northern head coach Chris Mouat knows, things just Never get easier, and that includes this week's trip to sunny Phoenix for the Phoenix Frontier Challenge. In Arizona, the Skylights will play Northern New Mexico, Bethel University and Benedictine Mesa in consecutive days.

"It will be three tough games," Mouat said. "Bethel is a Top 10, and Benedictine Mesa is undefeated. So, it's going to be a challenge for us, with three games in three days."

A challenge the Skylights should be up to, though.

They bring the NAIA's best defense to Arizona, as well as a team filled with talent. Point guard Mckenzie Gunter, currently injured, leads the Skylights in scoring, but Hailey Nicholson, Peyton Kehr and Sydney Hovde have all been weapons, as well, while Tiara Gilham is nearly averaging double figures off the bench.

But, as good as Northern has been offensively, it's also about the defense. The Skylights are No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, total defensive rebounding, 3-point field goal defense and overall field goal defense. Yes, the numbers are staggering, and Northern is doing it against top competition, like when the Skylights beat Montana Western and Rocky Mountain College to open Frontier play.

While the Skylights open play in Phoenix with Northern New Mexico, the Skylights' biggest test will come against No. 11 Bethel of Tennessee. The Wildcats are a perennial NAIA tournament team, and are 9-4 on the season, including having played a pair of NCAA Division I opponents. Bethel also knocked off top-ranked Freed-Hardeman 52-50 back in November, so that game will be a tough one for the Skylights.

Mouat also said Benedictine-Mesa is off to great start this season, and he expects a challenging outing against the Redhawks, who are 11-0 with wins over Arizona Christian and Pacific Life among others.

Of course, the Skylights will be a challenge for all three teams, too. Northern is off to its best start in three years, and the Skylights' depth has been a big factor. So, with that in mind, the Skylights should find plenty of success in the desert this week.

Northern's trio of games at the Phoenix Frontier Challenge begins Wednesday at 2 p.m. against Northern New Mexico. The Skylights play Bethel at 2 p.m. Thursday and Benedictine Mesa at noon Friday. Northern will then play Dec. 28-29 in the AmericInn Holiday Classic in the Armory Gymnasium.


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