George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
There’s no doubt the Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team is simply on fire right now. After all, the No. 25 Skylights have won 12 of their last 13 games, five in a row in Frontier Conference play and are two games up on the rest of the pack for second place in the Frontier standings. However, if Northern (6-1, 14-8) wants to keep things that way, then it will have to do it on the road. The Skylights play four of their last seven games on the road starting tonight at Lewis-Clark State. This weekend marks arguably Northern’s toughest road trip of the season as the Skylights also visit No. 17 Westminster College Saturday. “This is a challenging road trip,” MSU-N head coach Chris Mouat said. “We expect the best from both teams we’re playing. “But we’re playing very well right now and with some confidence,” he added. “We’ve been getting consistent post play, but a big key has been the maturing of our young guards. They’ve really carried us at times and that’s been critical. Our guards have come a long way from the beginning of the season. We played a schedule which seven of our eight losses were to teams that were ranked or are ranked, and I think that’s prepared us for this league. Our kids have really responded well.” Of course Northern, which is coming off a weekend in which it beat Carroll College in overtime and Rocky Mountain College in the final seconds, will have to step its level of play up even higher tonight and Saturday. And if last weekend was any indication, the Skylights are ready to do that. MSUN’s Stacie Barker had another monster weekend for the Skylights, includi8ng her third triple-double of the season. Guards Samm Schermele and Taylor Keller were also huge, both making big shots in critical moments. Schermele has been on a tear of late, scoring 60 points in her last three outings. But tonight, the Skylights take on LC State (4-3, 14-6), a team MSU-N beat in overtime last month in Havre. In that game, the Skylights went way up on the Warriors, only to see LC State’s full-court-press and 3-point shooting bring the Warriors all the way back. Northern held on in overtime 93-89, but Mouat knows that game, plus LC State’s bad loss at Westminster last Saturday should have the Warriors highly motivated tonight. “They (Warriors) are coming in off a tough loss, plus we beat them here, so we know they’ll be hungry,” Mouat said. “We expect their very best, and we are fully aware of the challenge in front of us. Teams don’t win in their gym very often.” The Skylights will also have to handle LC State’s pressure better. After what LC State did to Northern in the final nine minutes of the first meeting, forcing MSU-N into 11 turnovers and erasing a 23-point deficit, the Warriors will certainly be looking to turn up the heat again tonight. But that isn’t the only thing Mouat is concerned with. Sadie Short and Alyssa Fierro are bona fide post players, but it was LC State’s 3-point shooting that made the Warriors so lethal in Havre, especially 5-6 Nikki DePeel, who came off the bench to score 19 points, mostly in the final 10 minutes of regulation. The Warriors shoot 37 percent from three for the season, while MSU-N is ranked 13th nationally in field goal defense. “I’m sure they will press us and press us early,” Mouat said. “So we have to be ready for it, we have to handle it better. But they are still a team with great post players and great size and strength. That’s been their tradition and it still is. And with those players, it opens things up for their shooters. That’s what makes them so challenging, and that’s our challenge. We have to play well on the defensive end.” And that trend will continue on Saturday night in Salt Lake City. If things shake out, first place in the Frontier could be on the line when the Skylights visit league-leading Westminster (7-0, 17-5). The Griffins are off to the best start in school history, and they already have a 67-55 win over the Skylights in their back pocket. That game in Havre was never in doubt, despite the fact the Skylights did rally late, as well as holding the Griffins to their lowest point total of the season. In the first meeting, the Griffins nailed 11 three’s to Northern’s one, and they got multiple second-chance opportunities off misses. Keisha Catten was deadly from three, while seniors Shannon Evans and Elisa Leader continue to show why they are the best guard tandem in the Frontier. “We’re going to have to do some things differently this time around,” Mouat said. “We prepared hard for them for four days and then came out and showed none of it in the game. So we had to go back to the drawing board with them (Griffins). “The biggest challenge is again on defense,” he added. “We have to find their shooters, we have to contest shots and we have to control the boards. Those are things we didn’t do the first time around. There’s a reason they’ve scored over 100 points eight or nine times this season. They are that good offensively. But if we can do those things better and take care of the basketball against their pressure, we will be in the game at the end with a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for on the road.” Tonight’s game between MSU-N and LC State tips off at 7 M.S.T. Saturday’s game between the Skylights and Grif- fins will tip off at 6 p.m. in Salt Lake City.