Offense was hard to come by in a matchup of two of the best women’s basketball teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference on Saturday night in Grand Junction.
In a game in which neither team shot better than 30% from the field and combined for only three 3-pointers, it was the last two 3s of the game that proved to be the difference for host Colorado Mesa University. Behind two transition 3s from junior guard Kylyn Rigsby in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks turned a 32-30 deficit into a 36-32 lead they would hold onto on the way to a 38-35 win against Fort Lewis College on Saturday night inside Brownson Arena.
“Those 3s were the biggest shots of her career,” Mesa head coach Taylor Wagner said in the postgame interview. “We needed those, she hit ’em.”
Mesa improved to 15-2 overall with the win and remained unbeaten at 11-0 in RMAC play at the halfway mark of the conference schedule. The Mavericks also remained perfect at home at 9-0 and stretched their winning streak to 13.
It was a tough loss for a Skyhawks squad that played stifling defense but couldn’t find the offensive production to match its effort on the other end of the floor. It also sent FLC (11-5, 7-4 RMAC) to an 0-2 weekend after Friday’s loss at Western Colorado.
“Credit to our defense, the girls played extremely hard,” FLC head coach Orlando Griego said. “We did a really good job of competing and playing with toughness. Sydney Candelaria did an amazing job on the leading scorer in the RMAC, and we made it really difficult for them to make it a defensive game. It was a fun environment.”
Rigsby was the lone Maverick to score in double figures, as she reached 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting and only 2-of-9 from 3. But it was her 3 with 5:24 to play that gave the Mavericks the lead for good at 33-32. Another Rigsby 3 at the 3:54 mark felt like it put the game out of reach with the way both offenses had performed all game.
FLC freshman forward Jordan Vasquez would make it a two-point game at the foul line, though. Moments later, she had a chance to tie the game at the foul line, but she went 1-of-2, and Mesa held onto a 36-35 lead.
After FLC was whistled for a shot clock violation with 27 seconds to play, it would become a free-throw shooting game. But FLC had committed only one foul in the fourth quarter, one of five all game to that point, and needed to foul Mesa four times before the Mavericks would go to the foul line. Mesa point guard Sydni Brandon was able to run 18 seconds off the clock in the process, and she went 2-of-2 at the foul line to give her hometown Mavericks a 38-35 lead.
FLC would have two chances to look for the game-tying score. But Katrina Chandler had the ball knocked away from her with two seconds to play. Out of another timeout, FLC inbounded the ball into the post to Jordan Carter, who put up a two-point attempt that rimmed out to end the game. FLC never attempted a 3 to tie the game in the two chances with nine seconds to play.
“We were trying to run an on-ball screen to get a shooter in the corner and see if we could get the last shot,” Griego said. “They played really aggressive defense and were pushing on us to not use those screens.
“The second one, we tried to run it out and get a shot at the 3-point line to see if we could tie the game up. But they really defended it. Our last option was to throw it to (Carter) down low and, unfortunately, we were down three and needed a 3 at that time and didn’t get it.”
Carter scored a game-high 14 points on 7-of-16 shooting. She also had three rebounds. Chandler, who transferred away from Mesa last offseason to her hometown Skyhawks, finished with seven points and four assists. Vasquez scored all five of her points at the foul line and had a team-high 10 rebounds.
Brandon, who played her freshman season at FLC before she transferred to her hometown Mavericks, finished with seven points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. She was matched up on Chandler all game. Sierra McNicol had six points, a game-high 13 rebounds and three steals for the Mavericks.
“I mean, we’re beat up. We’re sick, they’re tired. It was a tough game,” Wagner said. “They fought through and gutted it out, and that was a big thing. We got down a bit, and the girls responded, and then we had big defensive plays in the end.”
FLC shot only 1-of-10 from 3, while Mesa was 2-of-18. The Skyhawks shot 27.1% from the field to 29.1% for the Mavericks.
Each team had 16 turnovers. It was 16 offensive rebounds for Colorado Mesa that led to 12 key second-chance points.
FLC led 9-4 after one quarter but would trail 18-15 at halftime. The Skyhawks would regain a three-point lead at 28-25 going to the fourth quarter.
After the Skyhawks went 1-3 on the tough four-game road trip, FLC will return home for its next four games beginning with Regis (7-10, 5-6 RMAC) at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
“I feel great about how we played,” Griego said. “One night this trip, we had pretty good offensive, the next was a defensive night. The biggest takeaway is that we need to be more consistent. Once we put our best defense out there with our offense, we’re gonna be able to hang with anybody.
“We’re playing pretty good basketball now. We will continue to get better and have four home games coming up, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”