Looking up and down the Havre High boys basketball schedule, the Blue Ponies face a lot of top tier teams throughout the season. But even with the consistent barrage of talented programs coming at the Ponies, HHS may be entering their toughest weekend yet.
The 3-8 Central A Ponies will face two Class AA programs in non-conference play this weekend. Tonight HHS will host the Great Falls High Bison at 7 at the Havre High gymnasium. And on Saturday night, the Ponies will face the CMR Rustlers in Great Falls. This will be the second meeting between the Ponies and the two Great Falls’ squads. Earlier in the season, the Bison defeated the Ponies 69-43 in Great Falls, and in Havre, the Rustlers defeated the Ponies 68-41.
Havre High's Ramsey Drew, right, races up the floor during last Saturday's win over Central A rival Livingston in Havre. Drew and the Blue Ponies are home tonight to host the Class AA Great Falls High Bison. Tip-off is set for 7 at the HHS gymnasium. The Blue Pony boys also travel to Great Falls Saturday to face the CMR Rustlers.
“A win would do great for our confidence,” Havre High head coach Curt Leeds said. “That is what we are going through right now, the confidence in ourselves or teammates is not where it needs to be. We have spurts where we play well, and we have spurts where we don’t, and don’t have confidence.”
Hosting the Bison, the Ponies will look to rebound after a tough loss to the Browning Indians on Monday. And after suffering a loss to the Bison already this season, the Ponies know a win isn’t going to be an easy accomplishment.
The Bison have a lot of offensive weapons, and aren’t the easiest team to slow down. Lukas Vining, Dylan Tatarka, and Jace Andregg all scored in double digits last time around, while Stan Gopher fell just short with his nine points. Andregg led with 18. And to make things tougher, the Bison score their points from nearly every area of the floor. GFH can thrive from behind the three-point line, or can penetrate and score in the paint. Tatarka is the perfect example of a guard that can heat up from behind the 3-point arc, or get to the rim.
Facing the Rustlers in Great Falls doesn’t present the Ponies with an easier task on Saturday. In fact, exactly the opposite as the Ponies prepare to face the defending Class AA state champions for the second time.
The Rustlers are like the Bison in the fact that they have a lot of weapons, but they set themselves apart with their size and powerful style of play. Joey Marzion is recognized as being one of the state’s top guards, but gets a lot of help up and down the roster. Marzion posted 23 points on the Ponies last time around, but CMR took it to the Ponies with solid scoring from Tanner Olson, Mason Storm, Josh Horner and Jayce McLean as well.
The Ponies have to rebound better on both ends of the floor. CMR took full advantage of their size last time out, out-rebounding the Ponies and creating numerous second-chance opportunities.
“We have been getting better offensively,” Leeds said. “Now it is time for the defense to really start holding teams down into the 30’s and 40’s, not the 50’s and 60’s. We are going to throw more zone looks at them. The first time, we played mainly man defense, and I would say our man is still our strongest, but sometimes you have to go zone if you want to try and slow another team down.”
But unfortunately against the Bison, Thurman Holdsclaw will be absent, and so will his defensive presence.
“We will be missing Thurman, and that is going to hurt,” Leeds said. “He will be back for Saturday, but he is our defensive spark. He sets the tempo, so we will be looking for somebody to step up.”
And the scores may have been lopsided the first time these teams met, but the Ponies have done a lot of improving since the beginning of the season.
Freshman Dane Warp has turned into a standout offensive weapon for the Ponies, while Kade Rismon has transformed his game down low. Throw the explosiveness of Holdsclaw and the outside shooting of Ramsey Drew and Nate Rismon in, and the Ponies can give both Great Falls squads a run for their money this weekend.
If the Ponies want to earn a win, or at least be competitive in either game, they have to play consistent. They have to play to their strengths, and they have to work the ball around until they find the best shot.
“It comes down to moving the ball and not letting the offense get stagnate,” Leeds said. “We look the best when we work the ball around, set screens, and cut. We have to do the things to get other kids open, when we get caught watching, that is when we don’t have as much offensive success.”
HHS will host the Bison tonight at 7. And on Saturday the Ponies will face the Rustlers of CMR in Great Falls at 4:30 p.m. The Ponies are back home next Tuesday to host the Malta Mustangs.