The Fort Lewis College starters checked out halfway through the first quarter, but head coach Jason Flores didn’t keep the ladies out long after lackluster bench play allowed University of the Southwest to get within three points at 13-10.
FLC’s starters re-established superiority with a 6-0 run to finish the first quarter, and the Skyhawks (2-2) would never let the lead wane to single digits again in a 94-46 win Friday night inside Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
“Our starters were playing with pretty good intensity and focus,” Flores said. “We were coming in and not bringing the same energy. You gotta be able to come into the game and have a positive impact. That wasn’t happening early, but we’re gonna keep everyone to a really high standard and see who rises through that.”
FLC sophomore forward Jordan Carter used her size advantage for a second consecutive big game. After a 21-point effort on 9-of-10 shooting Wednesday night in a demolition of Northern New Mexico, Carter continued to shoot well in her home gym with 12 points. She had 10 points in her first nine minutes on the floor and was a big part of FLC’s run to end the first quarter.
FLC senior forward Alyssa Yocky had another strong performance. Carter and Yocky combined for 17 of FLC’s first 23 points. Yocky finished with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds to go with six assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
“Me and (Carter) work really hard to get up the court so the guards can get us easy looks,” Yocky said. “If we can just work off transition all night, that’s easy for us. (Carter) is really good at getting in there and making those shots around people.”
Junior guard Kayla Herrera struggled a bit shooting from the field once again Friday, but she broke through by getting a few shots to fall through contact, and she converted on a pair of traditional three-point plays at the foul line. She finished with eight points, six rebounds and six assists, as she continued to adjust to her new role as a primary ball handler. The Skyhawks also received solid play from guard Sydney Candelaria, who raced around the floor to collect eight rebounds to go with 13 points, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
Candelaria had one word for her play, and that was intensity.
Off the bench, MorningRose Tobey finished with 11 points, and Tanisha Begay added eight, Abigail Jensen finished with five points and five rebounds. Aubre Fortner made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter to give the Skyhawks a 68-35 advantage. Those were her first three points of the game, and she finished with five points and four rebounds.
FLC’s bench eventually outscored the Mustangs 41-16.
“With Thanksgiving break, coming in I was a little worried, and we even talked about it before that this was maybe one of the few home games where we’re gonna have to bring our own intensity and focus to the game,” Flores said. “We need to learn that, no matter what, it’s still all about us and how we play.”
Not only did FLC dominate in the post, the Skyhawks also forced 26 turnovers and turned those into 33 points one game after forcing their opponent into 29 turnovers.
“At first we kind of scrambled,” Tobey said of the FLC defense. “We know where we need to be on defense, and when we lost that and kind of get out of control, we know we need to get back into our principles. Playing our defense will force turnovers. That’s what we were trying to stick to after a little out of hand first half.”
Aaliyah Wheatfall led University of the Southwest, an NAIA school from Hobbs, New Mexico, with 13 points and six rebounds. The Mustangs (2-5) compete in the Red River Athletic Conference. Mustangs’ head coach Cory Hitchcock is in his first season leading the team after previously serving as the head coach of the Glenwood Springs High School boys basketball team.
The Skyhawks will have the rest of the weekend off before a non-conference game at 2 p.m. Monday against New Mexico Highlands in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It will be the team’s last game before breaking for Thanksgiving.
“It’s another opportunity for us to be on the floor and play with each other and get better as a team,” Flores said. “That’s how we should treat it. We’d rather play a game than practice for four straight days, so it should be exciting.”