By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Harlem Wildcat boys basketball team has enjoyed a very successful run at the Northern C boys divisional basketball tournament over the last five years. The Wildcats successfully qualified for the Class B state tournament four straight times, winning a state championship in 2001.
But 2005 might be a little different for the young Wildcats. Harlem comes into today's opening round of the 2005 Northern B divisional in Cut Bank having suffered through its first losing regular season in quite some time. The Wildcats also barely made it out of the District 2B tournament two weeks ago. And what's worse, they open the tournament tonight against undefeated and top-ranked Fairfield at 6:30 p.m.
To make things even more difficult, this year's divisional tournament features no fewer than five teams that are ranked or have been ranked in the Class B top 10 this season, making the Wildcats one of the biggest underdogs in quite some time.
Knocking off the 18-0 Eagles will be Harlem's first priority this weekend. Even though the Wildcats struggled throughout the regular season, they have been playing better basketball the last three weeks. That is due in large part to the return of senior shooting guard Jordan Mount. Mount suffered an injury in November that caused him to miss almost the entire regular season and threw Harlem's usually potent offense into a tailspin for a while. The Wildcats have had to rely on veterans like Lance Iron Child and Craig Adams for leadership and scoring. Younger players like Neeko Bigby and Monty Snow have also emerged to provide the Wildcats with some talent and athleticism.
Still, Fairfield's deep and talented team will be a monumental task of Harlem tonight.
And the Eagles aren't the only high-profile team in the tournament this week. The Cut Bank Wolves have had another outstanding season and will figure heavily into the equation that has so many teams vying for two state tournament berths.
The Wolves open tournament play today at 2:30 p.m. against the upstart Wolf Point Wolves, who finished third in the 2B tourney two weeks ago. The opening game of the tournament also features one of the most improved Class B teams in Montana this season. The 18-2 Poplar Indians come into today's 1 p.m. game with the Conrad Cowboys on an 18-game winning streak and they were literally untested on their way to the 2B district championship. Poplar boasts a talented starting lineup that features four players over 6 feet tall.
A potential semifinal showdown with Cut Bank could be the highlight of the tournament.
The final game of the first round will be tonight at 8 featuring District 2B runner-up Glasgow and the Shelby Coyotes. Glasgow is another state tournament contender in the field this week and has the tournament's tallest player in 6-8 center Nate Barstad.
The Northern B divisional tournament in Cut Bank will get under way at 1 p.m. today and run through Saturday night. The championship game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday. The top two teams will advance to the Class B state tournament next week.