It will be quite the seismic shift this weekend for the Montana Tech Orediggers women’s basketball team when they host two teams of disparate pedigree at the HPER Complex on Kelvin Sampson Court.
On Friday night, Tech (13-9, 6-4) will host fellow Frontier Conference third-place squad, the Lights of Montana State-Northern (14-8, 6-4) with the winner gaining pole position for a top three league spot.
Then, 24 hours later, the Orediggers will turn around and take on a struggling, but historically dangerous Lewis-Clark State (6-18, 3-7) squad.
Both games tip off at 5:30 p.m.
Northern owns a 54-41 win in Havre back in January, so a win by them would not only give them a one-game lead over Tech, but own the head-to-head tiebreaker, essentially giving them a two-game lead with five games left to play in the regular season.
But Tech has won three of its last four games, including last weekend’s wild 86-78 win at Dickinson State. They have also won seven of their 10 home games and that could make a difference too.
“I am happy where we’re at currently as far as getting into the playoffs, but we certainly cannot relax,” Tech head coach Kerie DePell said. “We are just focusing on one game at a time, and trying to secure the best and highest possible seed for the conference tournament. We would love to host a first round playoff game on our home court, before having to go on the road.”
Now coming off the win in North Dakota they face two vitally important games. Win both, and they most likely will clinch at minimum a Frontier Conference Tournament spot.
“These two games are huge for a lot of reasons,” DePell said. “Obviously Northern is tied with us at third, so this could be a deciding factor in who actually ends up with that third seed for the tournament. They are a great team, and we will have to play significantly better than we did up in Havre in order to beat them. LC State is always a tough matchup, no matter what their record is this year. They are well coached, they have good players who play extremely hard, and as of late they have really improved and been playing very well.”
Westminster College (10-0) and Carroll College (9-1) are the top two teams in the league.
Northern, first up on the slate, will present a strong challenge.
“We matchup fairly well against Northern,” DePell said. “We both have a couple tall posts inside, an inside threat at the four spot, and several talented guards. I believe both teams play great defense, and then on the other end, we both have struggled with consistency on offense. So it should be a very competitive game on both ends.
The teams that have formed a small rivalry during DePell’s time at Tech have a long-standing tradition of winning at home against the other, so that trend could bode well for theOrediggers’ chances.
As for the Warriors, struggling or not, they are always a team to respect.
“LC State has been playing really well lately and their young players have turned a corner,” DePell said. “I feel they are much more experienced than in the pre-season, and are making better decisions on the court, etc. They have two explosive scorers in Kane and Fuller, then some good shooters and inside players to surround them with. I anticipate a battle on Saturday, and we will have to come ready to play if we want to beat them again.”
Tech won at L-C State, 60-55 on Dec. 22.
As the Orediggers continue to find their groove, DePell is seeing some things she really likes about her club.
“We have improved on offense overall, in that we are being more unselfish, looking for each other more often, instead of going one-on-one so much,” she said. “Our three-point percentage is still lower than we would like, but we’re concentrating on getting to the free throw line and getting good shots in the paint to combat that.”
They have also gotten some strong performances from a number of players.
“Especially after last weekend, I can’t say enough about Lisa Laslovich and Brooke Pokorny,” coach DePell said. “They have put a hundred percent effort on the court every game, without fail. They are so competitive and fiery that they would accept nothing less from themselves. Dannielle Devenny is also playing well, she is valuable to our team in so many ways, it’s hard on us when she’s not out there. Kelsey DeWit and Shaye Murphy have been really playing well in patrolling the paint, and cleaning up the glass.
Laini Kalumbi has been a bit inconsistent on offense this season, but is always great on defense, and continues to be a tough matchup for other teams.
Obviously Mandy Machinal is one of the best offensive players in the Conference, she’s came roaring out of her recent slump over in North Dakota, so I hope that continues this weekend.”