It’s a common tactic in chess to look ahead.
Good players can generally see three to five turns into the future, great players more.
The idea, of course, is to anticipate within a reasonable range the options your opponent will have given certain moves and use that knowledge to your advantage.
The ability to see a few moves ahead is largely futile for the Flathead and Glacier girls basketball teams as they prepare for their first-round matchup against one another at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Western AA divisional tournament at Capital High in Helena.
Given the two crosstown rivals will be facing one another for the third time in four weeks, there is likely to be no grand strategic advantage for either team. Both already know all the other’s moves.
“You know who they are; you know who their go-tos are,” Glacier head coach Bill Sullivan said. “On the flip side of that, after a while of seeing somebody, it becomes more difficult to scheme, more difficult to do things that might surprise them.”
The two squads capitalized on home-court advantage, an edge neither will have in Helena, to split the regular-season series.
Both matchups were defensive struggles.
Flathead (5-13, 4-8 Western AA) won the first meeting 29-25 behind Clara Vandenbosch’s game-high 13 points and a defense that limited Glacier to 13 points in the first three quarters. The Wolfpack (11-7, 6-6 Western AA) avenged its crosstown defeat three weeks later, downing the Bravettes 30-24 thanks in large part to Anna Schrade’s 10 points and a similarly stout defensive performance.
“When it gets down to this point in the season, you want to have a few little tweaks and some new stuff to throw in, but you don’t want to change your whole offense or change your whole defense,” Flathead head coach Tricia Dean said. “I can imagine that we’re going to be looking at similar style games from both teams.”
In other words, both teams will try to make it another slow-paced, grind-it-out, score-just-enough-to-win type of contest.
Those games are the ones in which the two defensively minded squads have enjoyed the most success this season.
The Wolfpack, which ranks third in the state with an average of 37.5 points per game allowed, is 10-2 when it holds opponents under 40 points and has given up just 32.4 points in its 11 wins. Glacier is 1-5 when its opponents score 40 or more, surrendering 50 points per game in the five losses.
But stringent defense is only one ingredient, even if a hugely important one, in Glacier’s recipe for success.
Also crucial, Sullivan said, is rebounding well, something he believes his team has done a better job of lately.
“We’re not going to change too much of who the Glacier Wolfpack are,” Sullivan said. “We have to do what we do and do it well.”
The staggering statistics regarding Glacier’s defensive performance also hold true for Flathead.
The Bravettes limited opponents to an average of 33.6 points in their five wins but surrendered 46.6 per game in their 13 losses. Flathead is 4-3 when holding its opponents under 40 and 1-10 when their foes score 40 or more.
Of more paramount concern for the Bravettes is their offense, which has been hit or miss throughout the season.
In last Thursday’s crosstown game, Glacier stymied the Flathead attack with a zone defense that forced the visitors to knock down shots from the perimeter. The Bravettes failed to do so, and they scored four points in the second half and zero in the final quarter as a result.
Dean said she and her staff have thrown “a couple of new wrinkles” into the offensive scheme this week, hoping to nullify Glacier’s zone.
“We have to be able to produce from the outside to alleviate some of that pressure on our posts inside,” Dean said, noting the importance of guards Sadie Wilson, Maddie Walter and Vandenbosch hitting shots from 3-point range. “I think we’ll be able to do that.”
Save for minor tweaks here and there, the schematic changes for Glacier and Flathead entering their third meeting are minimal.
They will both do what they’ve tried to do all year — play defense, rebound, avoid a track meet at all costs — and hope it’s enough to advance to face Missoula Sentinel at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
“For the most part,” Sullivan said, “we’re just preparing for our next game.”