Coach Rachelle Sayers kept it simple.
“Bouncing back is not an option, it is something we have to do,” she said, coming off a week where the Saints went 0-2 and extended a losing streak to three games.
The Saints took road losses to Montana Tech and No. 2 Lewis-Clark-State College, the former an unexpected result and the later taking a surprising turn, as the Saints gave the Warriors a strong challenge before fading out.
“We played a great game at LC,” Sayers said. “Held them 30 points under their average and didn’t give up a 3. Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays offensively.”
Sayers said the Saints needed to focus on playing a tougher brand of basketball. A pesky, undersized Montana Tech beat the long, tall Saints on the boards last week. Their physical style of basketball took the Saints out of rhythm and allowed the Orediggers to establish their own.
The Saints have a chance to avenge their first conference loss of the season when they travel to Dillon to face the newly-ranked No. 25 Montana Western.
“I think Western has turned a lot of heads this year and proven to everyone that our league is extremely difficult,” Sayers said. “They are playing with a lot of confidence and playing well.”
Western toppled Carroll at the PE Center on Dec. 7, making the last few plays in a tightly contested game to come out on top. Since then, the Bulldogs have gone 3-3 and rank No. 4 in the nation for turnover margin (7.3) and No. 5 in total rebound defense (32).
“They push the ball well and keep the pressure on you all game,” Sayers said. “They are small in the post, which i something that we hope to take advantage of but they make up for it because they play really hard and they have a lot of kids that come in and can make a difference.”
The Bulldogs are led by Kaye Bignell, who is averaging 14.59 points per game. Aniese Palmore scores well, too, adding in 13.1 points and four assists per game. Britt Cooper rounds out the scoring for the Bulldogs with 10.4 points and a team-high seven rebounds her night.
Western enters the game with the No. 2 offense (74 ppg) and defense (53 points allowed per game) in the Frontier.
“We are focused on us,” Sayers said. “We have to get better in a lot of areas, but particularly our toughness and our overall aggressiveness .”We have to be more focused to take advantage of defensive mistakes or mismatches and we have to step up and finish or score open opportunities. Rebounding is always a key for us and will continue to be important.”
Carroll will lean on rebounding, which ranks No. 4 in the nation at 31 defensive rebounds per game. The Saints’ length also ranks it highly in total blocks with 76, good for No. 6 in the nation. The Saints look to Cassidy Hashley’s 16 points and 9.89 rebounds per night to establish a presence. Guard Bailey Pasta scores 10.6 points a night and is the only other scorer in double figures for the saints. Hannah Dean comes close with 9.3 points and 7.3 rebounds each outing.
The Saints have Friday off before hosting Rocky (10-8, 2-4) on Saturday at the PE Center. The Saints beat Rocky 62-54 on Dec. 1 in Billings.
“Rocky has a lot of talent,” Sayers said. “They have some guards that can score in a variety of ways. We felt fortunate getting out of Billings with a win early in the season, but we know that they are going to come in and play hard.”
Rocky got a quality win over No. 11 Montana State-Northern, 60-58, last week in Havre, but the next night fell to now unranked Great Falls.
The Bears are led by Mikayla Jones, who averages 13.5 points per game. Coming in right behind her is Keisha Engelhard, who adds 12.9 points per evening.
“We need to do a better job of defending the ball this time around and not have to go to a zone
every time we start getting beat off the dribble,” Sayers said.