The Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team tasted defeat for the first time at home this season and saw its chances to host the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference evaporate Saturday night at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
From start to finish, the Skyhawks and conference-leading Colorado State University-Pueblo exchanged haymakers that would have left Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier with flashbacks of the Thrilla in Manila, and in the end, it was the ThunderWolves who sneaked out of Whalen with a 63-61 road victory.
“It came down to playing through adversity,” CSU-Pueblo head coach Curtis Loyd said. “We knew this would be a game of runs. We had a good run, then they made a run and it was time for us to get back in the game.
“We had multiple stops in a row and that was key because we capitalized and we went down and scored.”
In total, there were 15 lead changes and nine ties in the game.
FLC had a chance to win or tie the game on the final possession after the Skyhawks hauled in a rebound and called timeout with five seconds to go. The timeout advanced the ball into the front court, where Shelby Patterson inbounded the ball to fellow senior Astrea Reed.
Reed looked to standout freshman Vivian Gray, who had her defender sealed at the high post, but Reed’s pass was too high and out of the reach of Gray. The ball fell to the ThunderWolves to end the game.
Tuileisu Anderson powered CSU-Pueblo (17-6, 15-2 RMAC) to the victory with 22 points, and helped make up for the loss of Lauren Heyn, who played only 12 minutes before she fouled out with about 7 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the game.
“I saw a kid refuse to lose,” Loyd said of Anderson, who played most of the fourth quarter with four fouls.
“She played like she needed to, even with foul trouble. She didn’t let up. She attacked the basket and, for a lot of that stretch, she played with confidence to finish the game. She and Chelsea (Vallejos) and Kelsey Cunningham, my seniors, refused to lose.”
CSU-Pueblo started hot from long range and hit four 3-pointers in the opening quarter.
Behind the four triples, the ThunderWolves jumped out to an early 14-8 lead, but FLC (18-5, 12-5 RMAC) closed the quarter on a 6-0 run that sent the game to the second quarter tied at 14.
The Skyhawks went cold from the field in the second quarter with a 3-of-13 clip in the quarter. With the shooting struggles for the Skyhawks, the ThunderWolves built a 31-26 halftime lead behind a 12-point quarter from Molly Rohrer.
Rohrer was 0-for-5 from the field in the first quarter but hit 5-of-6 shots in the second. She finished the night with 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting and was harassed by the defense of FLC’s Kelsey Wainright and Alyssa Yocky, despite the Skyhawks giving up a lot of size to the 6-foot-3 Rohrer.
“For the most part, we battled that pretty well,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said of Wainright and Yocky’s defense.
“We kind of let down a little bit (in the second quarter) but we came back around. ... They battled pretty well on her.”
CSU-Pueblo got its lead to 35-29 early in the third quarter, but with Anderson and Heyn each picking up their fourth fouls in the quarter, FLC charged back and closed the quarter by outscoring the ThunderWolves 20-9 for a 49-44 lead at the start of the fourth.
“I feel like it was just a case of shots finally going in,” FLC guard Kayla Herrera said of the third quarter. “We just started playing harder and we started wanting it more. I think that helped until we started missing easy bunnies, which we should have put away.”
FLC built its lead to 54-46 after a 3 from the top of the key from Yocky with about seven minutes remaining. But the ThunderWolves charged back and tied the game at 55 with a little less than five minutes remaining.
Neither side built more than a four-point advantage the rest of the game.
Gray finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots for FLC. Reed scored 15 points to go with five boards, and Herrera was credited with 14 points, five rebounds and two steals.
As a team, FLC shot 32.8 percent from the field.
The Skyhawks won the battle on the boards 45-36 and had 13 second-chance points but committed 14 turnovers that CSU-Pueblo turned into 14 points.
The T-Wolves shot 35.4 percent from the floor and hit 6-of-15 from 3-point land. They also registered 12 steals in the win.
Cunningham finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals for the T-Wolves.
CSU-Pueblo now holds a three-game lead and the tiebreaker on the Skyhawks in the RMAC standings with five games left on each team’s schedule.
FLC will begin a four-game road swing on Friday with a trip to Gunnison to face Western State (7-16, 4-13 RMAC).