Fort Lewis College started Saturday night’s game 0-for-6 shooting from the field and 0-of-2 from the free-throw line. The shooting woes didn’t last long.
Briana Clah, Astrea Reed and Vivian Gray buried 3-point shots, and Fort Lewis turned an early hole into an 11-9 lead and would never trail again in a 69-57 win against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs inside Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
“I think we’re very versatile,” said Reed. “We find other ways to win, and if one way isn’t working, luckily we have a lot of talent and I think a pretty high IQ where we’re able to find other ways to win. Whether it’s Kelsey (Wainright) knocking people around getting boards or Vivian as well or (Clah) getting a ton of assists.”
Fort Lewis (15-1, 9-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) was defensively dominant in the first half and held the Mountain Lions (3-11, 3-6 RMAC) to only 21 points to take a 38-21 lead into halftime. UCCS had a stretch of six consecutive possessions with a turnover without attempting a shot. Sydney Candelaria was big off the bench and recorded three consecutive steals and forced another Mountain Lions turnover – four of the team’s 16 turnovers in the first half. Candelaria also made 5-of-6 free throws in the first half to help FLC gain separation.
“Between that and 16 turnovers in the first half, we dug a hole so deep,” UCCS head coach Lynn Plett said of the offensive rebounds given up. “Numbers-wise at halftime, it wasn’t totally off the board with offensive rebounds between the teams, but FLC scored almost every offensive rebound.”
All those turnovers allowed FLC to generate easy offense, and FLC scored 13 points off UCCS turnovers in the first half alone. Another eight offensive rebounds in the half led to 14 Skyhawks points. UCCS finished with 25 turnovers that led to 17 FLC points. The Skyhawks also finished with 19 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds. Those numbers helped FLC overcome a night in which it shot only 35.4 percent from the field.
The Mountain Lions tried to claw back in the third quarter when FLC’s offense struggled to get baskets or whistles. UCCS got within 53-44 at the end of the third quarter by outscoring the Skyhawks 23-15 over the 10 minutes.
The Skyhawks quickly regained a double-digit lead, as Wainright and Kayla Herrera scored a quick bucket each. FLC head coach Jason Flores singled out Wainright’s early effort for sparking the team.
“Just needed movement in our offense,” Wainright said. “Just a lot of cutting, following shots, rebounding and getting to the middle of the lane.”
Gray then scored seven consecutive points, and FLC built the lead to 64-49 with 6:39 to play.
Gray finished with 17 points to match Reed for the team lead. Gray added seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. Reed had four rebounds, four steals and two assists. Gray was only 2-of-7 shooting after three quarters but finished 6-of-13. She made two 3s and all three of her free throws.
“Well, it’s hard to be worse than the other three quarters,” Gray said of her fourth. “Just when the game gets going more in the fourth quarter, it’s easier for me to get going. Usually in the fourth, they find me more or I get more assists to get going or play harder defense just to get going. How many times did I just say ‘get going?’”
Wainright added 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Candelaria had six points, four rebounds and four steals.
“It’s great to see,” Flores said of the play of Candelaria and Wainright. “We needed a spark, an effort spark. We didn’t need somebody to come in and necessarily hit a shot. We needed that effort. (Candelaria) definitely gave us that spark. Kelsey did a good job the first half that was our effort spark before that and had a great game because of it. Everyone came around and did what we needed to do from there.”
Shanah Leaf led UCCS with 11 points, and also had five rebounds. She was the lone Mountain Lion in double-digit scoring.
FLC earned its 10th consecutive win and is a perfect 11-0 at home this season. That included a 5-0 mark with students off campus for winter break.
After five consecutive home games, FLC will hit the road for its next four games beginning with the South Dakota trip in which the Skyhawks will see Black Hills State at 5:30 p.m. Friday and South Dakota Mines at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It might actually be a good time for us to get on the road,” Flores said. “We’ve been here a long time, having people tell us how good we are all over the place. We need to refocus a bit and get our edge back. We lost a bit of our edge today. It was one of those games where we felt we are a good team and we’re going to go out and win a game without doing all the necessity things to play a really good game.
“We now have to be focused against a great team in a really tough place to play. We have to be locked in.”