Fort Lewis College never trailed Saturday night after it ran out to a 7-0 lead. A stifling defensive performance kept the Skyhawks in the lead the rest of the game.
The FLC women’s basketball team played six of its first eight games on the road, and that included the first three games of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play. The team finally returned home Saturday to host South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and the Skyhawks (5-4, 2-2 RMAC) shut down the second-best 3-point shooting team in the RMAC in a 62-44 win inside Whalen Gymnasium.
While the Hardrockers (2-5, 0-4 RMAC) shot a solid percentage with 7-of-18 made 3s, FLC head coach Jason Flores was happy the stat wasn’t closer to 15-of-30. His team was locked in defensively and made S.D. Mines hesitant. In all, the Hardrockers shot only 31.9 percent in the game, while FLC shot 45.6 percent.
“It’s hard being on the road six out of your first eight,” Flores said. “ At home, it was more of a comfort zone and it was the start we needed.
“I’m proud of our team. To hold a good offensive team to 44 points is unbelievable. Defense won us the game. When we got in a rhythm offensively, it broke them down.”
Aubre Fortner was huge off the bench for the Skyhawks, as she scored a game-high 14 points in 24 minutes. She added three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot, and she made both of her 3-point attempts.
“It boosted my confidence a lot,” Fortner said of seeing her first 3 attempt go in. “I think getting that 3 helped me play better. ... I knew they were a lot slower than me. If I drove in and (played) more aggressive than I usually am, I would get a shot off and score.”
FLC got out to a hot start behind a couple of baskets from Sydney Candelaria and Jordan Carter, as the Skyhawks made their first four shot attempts from the field.
Alyssa Yocky helped give the Skyhawks momentum for good with a halftime buzzer-beating hook shot that gave FLC a 37-29 lead at the break. Yocky finished with 11 points and nine rebounds to go with four assists.
“We felt good about it going into the second half,” Yocky said. “On offense, to make shots like that boosts our confidence a lot for the second half.
“I don’t think we’ve played that well defensively until this point.”
Both teams played an ugly third quarter, as the Hardrockers shot only 1-of-11 from the field while FLC went 2-of-14. The united defensive effort made it easy for Flores to look past the poor offensive quarter.
“We ran 3-point shooters off the 3-point line,” Flores said. “We forced them to drive. When they were driving...we did a great job switching. When we’re focused like that and play like that, if you’re gonna score it’s gonna be a tough shot, a contested shot, and that’s what you saw.”
Taylor Molstad led the Hardrockers with 12 points and four rebounds, though she had four turnovers. The Skyhawks forced the Hardrockers into 18 turnovers and only committed 10 of their own to go with 17 team assists led by six from Kayla Herrera, who also had eight points.
FLC will play a 3:30 p.m. game Sunday against No. 18 Black Hills State (7-1, 3-1 RMAC). Only Candelaria and Herrera played 30 minutes Saturday, and that will help keep FLC fresh going into the big game.
“The spark that (Fortner) gave us was huge tonight, and we need that,” Flores said. “Different players and people stepping up allowed us to get into a really good rotation in the game and subbing and made my job easier because you’re getting production. The strength of our team is when everyone is scoring, everyone is defending. That makes us scary.”