If the Wildkats are to repeat as Class A state basketball champions in Great Falls this weekend, they will have to go through some very familar competition.
The Kats will open this year’s tournament with a rematch against Hardin, the team the Wildkats defeated in last season’s championship game.
The Lady Bulldogs come into Thursday’s matchup 16-4 after defeating Belgrade and Billings Central at last weekend’s Eastern A Divisionals before losing to Havre in the championship game, 42-34.
Hardin is led this season by senior guard Karissa DuShane, who is third in the state in Class A scoring at 17.3 points per game. DuShane also leads the state in three-point shooting, making 50 percent of her attempts this season.
Hardin also boasts three of the top-10 in Class A in steals this season, led by Sharmayne Hardy at 4.8 per game, the best in the state.
In the post, the Lady Bulldogs are anchored by Marie Five, who is averaging 8.8 points, 6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest.
The teams will face off at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
With a win, the Wildkats would face the winner of Butte Central and Dawson County (Glendive) at 8 p.m. Friday. With a loss, the Kats would face the loser of that game at 2 p.m. Friday.
Glendive is 8-15 this season and was 5-13 heading in last weekend’s divisional tournament, where the Tigers defeated Sidney, Lewistown and Billings Central, but lost to Livingston and Belgrade.
On the other side of the bracket, the top seed from the east, Havre, will face off against Hamilton.
Havre comes into the tournament undefeated this season with a record of 21-0. The Blue Ponies swept their way through the Eastern A Divisional Tournament last weekend, downing Miles City, Laurel and Hardin.
Havre is led by Kyndall Keller, who is second in Class A in scoring at 18.1 points per game and is also fourth in three-point shooting at 41.7 percent. Danielle Wallace is averaging 10 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and Marca Herron is second in the state in three-point shooting at 44.7 percent.
The winner there will face the winner of Browning and Belgrade, though the Blue Ponies beaten both teams two times each this season.
Belgrade is 11-11 this season and is the No. 3 seed from the east. The Panthers lost the opening round of the divisional tournament to Hardin, but bounced back with wins over Livingston, Laurel and Glendive.
Gabby Weber leads the Panthers in scoring at 13.1 points per game while Kiah Hohenstein is averaging 11.7.