By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
When the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team takes the floor today and Saturday, the intent will be to win the games.
But regardless of the results, the Lights and fans attending will be helping fight the good fight during this weekend's third annual Super 8 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
The four-team tournament will not only offer good basketball action, but a chance for people to help donate to the fight against cancer.
There is no special admission for the game, but each fan is asked to donate $1. On the floor, the local Super 8 Motel will donate $3 for every 3-pointer made by the Lights.
"We've brought in over $1,000 the last two years," said Lights head coach Shawn Huse. "The money goes to the American Cancer Society, with a percentage of it going directly to help treating cancer patients here in Hill County."
It's a cause that Huse doesn't take lightly. His brother, Brad, now an assistant coach at the University of Montana, overcame a battle with cancer five years ago.
"This weekend does give our kids a chance to see that there is more to life than basketball," Huse said.
Still, basketball will be at the forefront starting tonight at 6 p.m. when Rocky Mountain College takes on Augustana University College of Camrose, Alberta. The Lights will take the floor at 8 p.m. to face the Concordia University College Thunder of Edmonton.
The Thunder comes into this weekend with a 9-3 record overall and should provide a solid test for the Lights.
"From what I've heard, they have a very good post player and a really good guard," Huse said.
Point guard Daryl Balog leads Concordia, averaging 16.4 points and four assists per game this season. The 5-10 Balog is shooting 35 percent from 3-point range and 44 percent from the field. Keith Miller is the Thunder's main post presence at 6-4, averaging 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Also pitching in is 6-5 forward Kris Raymond, who is averaging 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.
"They have some older players on their team," Huse said. "They always play very scrappy and hard."
Northern will swap opponents with Rocky on Saturday and face Augustana University College at 8 p.m.
The Vikings are struggling this season with a 3-9 record, having lost five out of their last six games.
Augustana does have a solid player in 6-7 forward Bruce Carbert, who is averaging 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. Also averaging in double figures are 5-11 point guard Tyrel Herder (12.3) and 6-1 shooting guard Cameron Omoe (13.2).
"They are down a little bit this year," Huse said. "They haven't done as well as Concordia, but we're not too worried about what either team does. We're more concerned with what we're doing on the floor."
With the exception of effort, there really isn't one consistent thing the Lights have been doing on the floor this season. Huse has worked to blend the large number of newcomers with his returnees to get to the level of consistency he desires.
"We've been working on repetition and getting better at everything we do," he said. "We're still trying to fine-tune our execution on offense and defense. Win or lose, we just want to get better at our execution and that repetition."
It's been a slow process at times, but Huse believes that there is light at the end of the tunnel. After four straight losses, Northern rebounded with a pair of solid wins last weekend at the Rocky Mountain College Alumni Food for the Holidays tournament.
Huse saw plenty of positives in the wins.
"We've gotten a lot more assertive trying to score the basketball," he said. "We've been getting the ball in the post and focused less on 3-pointers. We're driving and getting to the basket instead of settling for jumpshots." Offense is always a concern for any coach, but Huse's biggest focus has been on his team's defense. Even he admits that with the multitude of scorers and high-scoring teams in the Frontier Conference, defense will be at a premium.
"We want to play well defensively every time we step on the floor," Huse said. "With all the scoring power in our league, we have to be a good defensive team. This is where we get better, is in the nonconference season."
The Lights will have to be a better defensive team without one of their better defenders. Transfer Tim Hutchins is out for the season with a medical redshirt after foot problems put him on the sidelines. Huse is looking for his team to replace Hutchins' defensive presence.
"Tim brought a very physical presence to our defense," Huse said. "We need the rest of our guys to step up and play that way, especially in the half court. Championships and conference games are won with half-court defense and that's what we want to get better at."
While Northern's defense may be focused on the half court, the Lights' offense wants to be played on the entire length of the court. The Lights have had their best offensive nights when they've been able to score in transition.
"We've been scoring in transition much better," Huse said. "We need to continue to capitalize on transition opportunities. We have the capability to score in bunches when we get into our transition game."
Besides Northern, fans will get their first glimpse of a Rocky Mountain College team that is primed for a Frontier Conference title run.
"They are a very explosive team," Huse said. "They have a lot of talent and will be a tough team in conference."