The Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team is finally in the midst of a busy portion of its schedule. And while it took a while to get there, the Skylights are enduring a challenging stretch of games.
And that stretch continues tonight with the first of two games this weekend against Walla Walla University. The Skylights meet the Wolves tonight at 7 at the Armory Gymnasium, and will also host the Wolves again Saturday night at 6 p.m. The games are part of three days of basketball at the MSU-Northern Duck Inn Holiday Classic.
) comes into tonight’s contest with little rest. The Skylights were in Washington and Oregon last weekend for three tough road games, then returned to Havre Monday. So Northern head coach Chris Mouat knows his team needs to rise to the challenge at home.
“We played three tough games in three days,” Mouat said. “And we had to travel in between all of them. So that trip took a lot out of our kids. I was really proud of the way they responded to all we were up against, but we were definitely tired by the end of it.”
The Skylights went 2-1 on the road trip, winning a nail biter against Evergreen State, losing a heartbreaker to New Hope Christian, then winning comfortably over Willamette. Willamette is an NCAA Division III program, and now the Skylights will turn their attention to another DIII opponent in Walla Walla.
The Wolves have been busy this fall, as they have already played 19 games, going 5-14 in the process. Walla Walla has played several Frontier Conference schools, including losses at Carroll College, Great Falls and Montana Tech. But Mouat and the Skylights won’t underestimate Walla Walla this weekend.
“Walla Walla University has played a very, very tough schedule,” Mouat said. “They are familiar with teams in the Frontier Conference, and they will play extremely hard. I really like a lot of what they are running on offense and think their kids do an excellent job of finding each other. They run good stuff, and all move without the ball very well. They have shown the ability to get hot from the 3-point-line and to the rim. We will have to be on our toes defensively and on the boards both nights.”
Senior point guard Dani Carlman leads the Wolves in scoring. Though she stands just 5-3, she’s an outstanding shooter and can drive to the basket as well. Guards Nicolette Neel and Rebekah Gaines are also quality scorers, while the Wolves have some size in 6-1 junior Giselle Schmitz.
The Skylights counter the Wolves with one of the best defenses in the NAIA. Northern is allowing just 55 points per game, while teams don’t shoot the three well against MSU-N’s tough perimeter defense. The Skylights are also one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the Frontier, while senior Nikki Tresch leads the way, scoring 16 points per game and shooting 43 percent from three. Jordan Bruursema is averaging 11 points and six rebounds per night, and the senior is coming off her best weekend of the season, scoring 24 and 18 points, respectively in her last two outings.
Laci Keller adds eight points and five rebounds, while freshman Kacie McKeon has been big off the bench for MSU-N. The Skylights may be short-handed this weekend though, as the status of senior guard Kylee Denham is unknown. Denham suffered an ankle injury at Evergreen State last Friday night.
And while the Skylights seem to finally be hitting a stride right now, they also look at the next two games as a big chance to get even better. And they’ll need to because not only is conference play just a few weeks away, but Northern wraps up 2012 with a tough road trip to California next weekend.
“For us, it’s very important that we limit our turnovers and get things turned around from the free-throw-line,” Mouat said. “We made big strides there last Saturday, so we’re hoping to build on some of that success.”
Tonight, the Skylights host Walla Walla at 7 at the Armory Gymnasium. The rematch between the Skylights and Wolves will take place Saturday 6 p.m. Rocky Mountain College will also come to Havre to face Walla Walla on Friday afternoon.