The Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team barely led against Westminster College, but when the final buzzer sounded, it was the No. 16 Skyhawks on top 63-62 Friday night in Salt Lake City.
Down 62-61 with 6.6 seconds to go in the game, Kayla Herrera made a long inbound pass from the right wing to freshman star Vivian Gray in the post. Gray sealed her defender under the basket, reached up and grabbed Herrera’s pass with her right hand as she spun to the basket and made a layup as she drew a foul.
Gray missed the free throw, but it didn’t matter, as only a few seconds remained and Westminster’s desperation shot at the buzzer from about 60 feet was well off the mark.
“The last play was great execution. It’s an out-of-bounds play that we have in place,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “Kayla made a great pass, and Viv went up and got it. They were trying to front her and we hit them on the backside. She did a great job going up, getting it and scoring to win the game.”
The Skyhawks (10-1, 5-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) never led in the first half and trailed 29-24 at halftime.
Westminster (3-6, 2-3 RMAC) hit a 3-pointer on its opening possession of the third quarter to push its lead to 32-24. After the 3, FLC went on a run. Briana Clah converted an and-1 opportunity to tie the game at 32, the first tie since the score read 0-0, and on the next FLC possession, Herrera drove the baseline and scored to give the Skyhawks their first lead of the game about two and a half minutes into the third quarter.
The Skyhawks pushed the lead to 36-32 to cap a 12-0 run and nearly matched their point total from the first half with 21 points in the third quarter. Flores said the biggest difference for the offensive turnaround was FLC’s ability to speed up the tempo.
“(Westminster’s) style of play, they had a lot of possessions that were going deep into the shot clock and it took us out of rhythm,” Flores said of the first half. “They were very methodical and forced us to play defense for the entire shot clock, and it took us out of the rhythm of the game.”
The Griffins took the lead back and held a 48-45 advantage going to the fourth.
The final quarter was close the whole way. Westminster got its lead to 57-51 in the final few minutes of the fourth before FLC sophomore Kaitlyn Romero, who has played sparingly this season with fewer than seven minutes of action per game, checked in a hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to help spark the Skyhawks.
“We needed somebody to make a couple shots,” Flores said. “We weren’t hitting 3s, and Kaitlyn is capable of that. I love to see a kid who hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time this year come in and be ready. That’s a credit to her. You can’t come into a game and impact it like that with two 3s unless you’re mentally engaged. I love to see that.”
After a quick Westminster 3 put the Griffins up 60-54, FLC closed the game on a 9-2 run to pick up the win.
Gray led all scorers with 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting. She also had a team-high six rebounds, six steals and two blocks.
Clah scored nine points, all in the third quarter, and Astrea Reed, who played through an ankle injury, finished with eight points.
Herrera dished out six assists, and Romero finished with six points on 2-of-2 shooting from long range.
Sydnee Taylor led Westminster with 14 points. Hunter Krebs added 12 and Kaylee Carlsen finished with 10.
FLC will be back on the court at 5:30 Monday when the Skyhawks host NAIA Northern New Mexico (4-8) at Whalen Gymnasium. The Skyhawks beat the Eagles 105-51 on Nov. 16 in Durango.