PUEBLO - The third time was not a charm.
"It's obviously not fun to play Pueblo here every year," Skyhawks' coach Mark Kellogg said in an understated postgame news conference.
In what the Fort Lewis College women's basketball coach dubbed yet another home game for Colorado State University at Pueblo, the Thunderwolves were clearly more comfortable with their environs at the spacious Colorado State Fair Events Center in Pueblo.
They missed their first four shots, then rarely missed again - 57 percent (17-for-30) in the first half, 62 percent (13-for-21) in the second and 59 percent (30-for-51) for the game.
"We obviously didn't think they'd shoot it that well," Kellogg said.
"Oh yeah," Skyhawks post Allison Rosel said sarcastically. "That's going to happen when you leave them open."
"When you shoot it as well as they did (Friday), we weren't going to beat anybody," Kellogg said.
For the third consecutive year, CSU-Pueblo ousted Fort Lewis from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout at the Events Center - the 'Wolves' home away from home - No. 4 Pueblo defeated No. 1 Fort Lewis 83-65 in the first of two women's semifinals Friday.
"I told the girls, 'One word: fearless,'" Pueblo coach Kip Drown said. "They didn't blink. They didn't worry about anything. We just played."
From the opening tip, Fort Lewis looked every bit the part of the Shootout's No. 1 seed, the Central Region's No. 2 and the nation's No. 4.
The referee underhanded the ball in the air, Audrey George paused, then the Skyhawks' junior calmly timed her jump and easily tapped the ball back to senior point guard Erin Kerr. Seventeen seconds into their half-court set, George, from the perimeter, passed to Rosel in the paint for a layup and a 2-0 lead.
Katie Mackey picked up a steal on defense.
Laura Haugen rewarded her with a layup.
Pueblo tied it at 4, then Rosel gave the Skyhawks a 6-4 lead with a tough runner off the glass.
Pueblo responded with a 7-0 run in a little more than 3 minutes time.
"They were denying a little bit more, not only me, but the wings, too," 'Wolves' sophomore point guard Rachel Espinoza said. "That kind of took us out of it early."
Then the 'Wolves' 38 percent season average turned to gold, as it usually does come Shootout time against the Skyhawks.
"When we shoot the ball, we can play with a lot of people," Drown said.
Rosel again scored in the paint, then Mary Rehfeld and Lauren McCulloch canceled each other out with a pair of 3s.
Abby Jackson, the Skyhawks' sophomore point guard, tied the game at 14 with a 3-pointer with 12:15 to play.
Sarah Staggs and Dana Schreibvogel traded layups, then Shandryn Trumble hit a pull-up 3 in transition to give the 'Wolves' their final lead.
CSU-Pueblo went to the game's first media timeout with a 19-16 advantage, then broke the huddle with a 10-4 run and a nine-point lead.
It was 11 at the half, 41-30.
"At halftime, we just treated it like it was a new game, 0-0," said Espinoza, who played her Pueblo Central High basketball games at the Events Center. "We knew they were going to make their runs, but it was up to us to face those; we had to make some runs of our own."
Fort Lewis made its run midway through the second half.
As their disadvantage hung around 11, something sparked the Skyhawks into action.
Rosel scored the high-low from Mary Rose Paiz.
Schreibvogel picked up a steal on defense and a layup on offense.
Rehfeld hit a jumper from the elbow for a 57-48 lead with 10:15 to play.
Rosel scored the high-low from Schreibvogel.
Mackey hit a pair of free throws.
Haugen, who played her first game since a badly sprained ankle Feb. 14 against New Mexico Highlands, looked herself for the first time with a deep 3 behind a high screen to pull the Skyhawks within four, 59-55, with 8:22 to play in regulation.
"I thought that comeback would put us back in it," said Haugen, who scored 10 points in a hobbled 27 minutes of playing time.
"When it came time to get the crucial stops that we needed, we didn't get them."
Rehfeld answered Haugen's 3 with a baseline jumper, and Haugen answered Rehfeld's jumper with a left-handed layup underneath the basket.
Pueblo finally regained the momentum with a turnover.
On their next offensive possession, the Thunderwolves turned the ball over, which triggered a media timeout at 7:42.
Pueblo led by four, 61-57.
Fort Lewis, again momentumless, turned the ball over on its next four possessions.
CSU-Pueblo responded with a 7-0 run, and, again, that teasing 11-point advantage.
"I could hear the crowd getting into it, but it wasn't our crowd, it was their crowd," said Espinoza, whose fans in red and blue far surpassed those in white and gold. "I didn't like that. I liked the sound of our fans much better."
Pueblo, which is 17-0 this season when leading at halftime, outscored Fort Lewis 22-8 in the game's final 7 minutes.
"They looked really frantic," said Espinoza, who tied Rehfeld with a team-high 18 points and led five 'Wolves in double digits. "I was starting to get frantic with them.
"They were looking for their shots ... they had to work for their shots."
Rosel, who was "side-fronted" defensively, Drown said, as opposed to doubled from behind, which he said worked effectively last season but not since she has improved this season, had a hard-working 18 points and 14 rebounds.
She had a double-double in the first half alone, including a game-high 10 offensive rebounds.
"I thought we could get back in it," Rosel said after the Skyhawks' run. "We just needed more stops."
Fort Lewis, which had a legitimate chance to host the Central Regional tournament next week after the region's No. 1 seed lost Wednesday, now awaits Sunday's selection show to see their Division II determination.
"That wasn't even close to the effort I expected, or that we needed," Kellogg said. "They just 100 percent beat us."