Potent defense carried the No. 14 Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team past a Metro State University-Denver squad that simply wouldn’t go away Friday.
The FLC Skyhawks continually built 10-point leads Friday night at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango, but the Roadrunners from Denver raced back to keep the game within reach each time. Still, FLC’s ability to contest shots on the perimeter and deny passes into the interior sent the Skyhawks to a ninth consecutive win with a 70-63 victory.
“We gave up some 3s, but other than that, it was a good defensive effort,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “We held them to 21 at halftime, and that’s great. It was a solid defensive performance.”
FLC (14-1, 8-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) led 40-30 in the middle of the third quarter, but Jaelynn Smith shot Metro State (9-5, 5-3 RMAC) back into the game with a pair of 3-pointers. The Skyhawks stretched the lead back to 48-39 behind two layups from Alyssa Yocky, with one coming on a fastbreak with an assist from Vivian Gray.
A few calls went Metro State’s way in the final minutes of the third quarter, as Smith scored 12 points in the third quarter to cut the FLC lead to 48-45 with one quarter to play.
But Gray and Kayla Herrera got FLC’s lead back to 52-45 with quick buckets to open the fourth quarter, and the Skyhawks’ offense settled back into a rhythm to close out the game.
The rhythm came in the form of Gray, who opened the fourth quarter 3-of-3 shooting for seven points thanks to a made free throw. She finished with a team-high 23 points. Gray was 3-of-8 shooting in the first half but came out sharp in the third quarter.
“Honestly, just playing harder on defense gets you going on offense,” Gray said. “Moving the ball to open people, getting assists and just getting back in a flow of the game.”
Astrea Reed and Yocky were big in the final quarter. Reed scored four consecutive points, and Yocky got up to 11 points in only her third game back from offseason ankle surgery.
“If we can get four or five players in double figures every time, that makes us pretty tough to defend,” Flores said. “We got to four with Alyssa, and that makes it tougher for people to key in on certain players and certain sets.”
The final minutes of the game dragged out as Metro State was put away but not far enough back to call it quits. A few replay reviews slowed a result that was inevitable.
Metro State was led by the 23 points from J’Nae Squires-Horton, who made 6-of-12 shots from behind the 3-point line. Smith added 16 points and four assists, but she turned it over four times.
FLC forced 16 turnovers by the Roadrunners but committed 17 of their own. Herrera led FLC with five steals, and she scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds.
“We stuck to our principles,” Herrera said of FLC’s defense.
Reed finished with 17 points and five rebounds before she fouled out in the game’s final minute. It was a strong showing, as she went 6-of-11 shooting one game after going 1-of-12 in a key win against Regis last Saturday.
“The past is the past and it is what it is,” Reed said. “The more you try to change, the worse it gets.”
FLC shot 43.6 percent for the game but 54.5 percent in the fourth quarter. The Skyhawks were 4-of-10 shooting from 3 in the game. Metro State was held to 39.6 percent shooting but improved greatly from a 27.3 percent second quarter. The Roadrunners made 8-of-21 from 3.
FLC will have another key game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (3-10, 3-5 RMAC).
“Springs is pretty talented,” Flores said. “They have six players who have gone to the NCAA tournament a couple years in a row. For whatever reason, they’ve lost some games, but that’s not our problem. Our focus is on playing as good as we can. We have our own goals we’re trying to get to.”