With a big showdown to come Saturday, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team didn’t mess around Friday with New Mexico Highlands University.
The Skyhawks and Cowgirls traded baskets early on, but after the first quarter, it was all FLC in a 65-51 victory Friday night at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
“We knew we needed to get the win tonight so we could focus on tomorrow’s game,” FLC senior Astrea Reed said. “We wanted to make sure our heads weren’t too big or unfocused and stuck to the plan.”
The theme of the night for the Skyhawks was conservation ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference-leading Colorado State University-Pueblo.
In the game, FLC saw 13 players take the court, and no one played more than 24 minutes.
“It was good. Getting a lot of people an opportunity to play is always a coach’s dream because there are so many players who are deserving of it, and it doesn’t always happen,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “First and foremost, it’s nice to get everyone in, and secondly, we wanted to get the minutes spread around.”
In the first quarter, the Skyhawks went into their rotation early and often, as 10 players saw three minutes or more on the court and seven players scored in the quarter on their way to an 18-13 lead.
FLC (18-4, 11-4 RMAC) took control in the second quarter, highlighted by redshirt freshman Jordan Carter hitting back-to-back-to-back baskets to help push the Skyhawks to a 38-24 halftime lead.
In the half, FLC shot 48.5 percent from the field, including a 5-for-5 performance from Carter.
“She did a great job,” Flores said of Carter. “To go 5-for-5 with 10 points at halftime, that’s exactly what we needed. We need contributions from a lot of players, so it was good to see her step up.”
But it wasn’t all offense that helped the Skyhawks to the big halftime lead, as the defense forced 11 turnovers from Highlands (3-16, 2-13 RMAC) that FLC turned into 17 points.
FLC kept the defensive pressure up and forced 22 turnovers in the game, with 27 points coming from those turnovers.
The Skyhawks didn’t slow down in the third. The starters built the lead to 46-26 before a platoon of five new players checked in with 6:27 to go in the quarter. The FLC bench had some trouble scoring, but their defense was solid and the Skyhawks maintained a 20-point cushion until Highlands’ Amari Terry hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the quarter that sent the game to the fourth with the Skyhawks on top 52-35.
FLC sent its starting lineup of Vivian Gray, Kayla Herrera, Shelby Patterson, Reed and Kelsey Wainright back out for the fourth quarter, and they quickly got the Skyhawks’ lead back to 20 points. The starters checked out with about 6:30 remaining and a 63-41 lead.
Gray led the Skyhawks with 19 points, nine of which came in the few minutes she played in the fourth quarter. She also had three blocks.
Allyah George led the Cowgirls with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Amari Terry added 11 points and Ari Baca had eight points and 10 rebounds for Highlands.
“Highlands did some good things and a couple players had some good performances,” Flores said. “Amari was tough, Allyah George was tough, and Ari Baca is always a hard-nosed kid. They played as hard as they could and made us work for it a bit.”
Highlands head coach Joseph Anders declined a post-game interview.
FLC will host CSU-Pueblo (16-6, 14-2 RMAC) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Whalen Gym. The ThunderWolves beat FLC 63-48 on Dec. 1 in Pueblo.
“We’re fired up,” Reed said. “Like every other game, it’s a big one for us. We’re not in the conference tourney yet, but we need each game to be a win for us, and I think that desire will help strike the passion we need for (Saturday) night.”