Fort Lewis College took away Daniella Turner for seven quarters this season. She couldn’t be stopped in the eighth.
Turner, the leading scorer of the No. 24 Colorado Mesa University women’s basketball team, scored 11 of her 15 points in the final 10 minutes of Friday night’s clash at Whalen Gymnasium at Fort Lewis College in Durango. Kelsey Siemons also hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the Mavericks swiped a 63-60 road win to beat the Skyhawks by three points for a second time this season.
The win gave the Mavericks (22-4, 18-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) a two-game lead in the conference with two games to play in the regular season, while FLC (15-10, 11-9 RMAC) remained in eighth place with a half game lead on Metro State University-Denver for the final spot in the eight-team RMAC tournament.
“Fort Lewis does a great job on their home floor. They’re relentless, kept making plays. We just made a couple more right at the end,” Mesa head coach Taylor Wagner said. “We hit some big shots we weren’t making in the first half. When you can get a win this time of the year, it’s huge. We clinched a share tonight, but we want to go and get it all and hopefully have the opportunity to host the tournament.”
FLC has now lost five games in a row and will welcome second-place Western Colorado University (18-6, 16-4 RMAC) in the final home game of the season at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We thought it was going to be a fight and come down to the little things, who was going to execute down the stretch and who is going to fight for that win,” FLC head coach Orlando Griego said. “They’re a really good team, really well-coached. I thought we really fought hard, as well. That one could have gone either way.”
Friday night’s game was a constant battle played out in front of the best crowd of the season at more than 1,000 fans who were involved in the game from tipoff until the final buzzer.
It all came down to the final few possessions. FLC matched its largest lead of the game of four at 44-40 and 46-42 early in the fourth quarter before Turner, who had only six points in the 38-35 win against FLC at home earlier this year, started to roll.
She would give the Mavericks a 50-48 lead with 5:20 to play, but the Skyhawks would tie the game at 52-52 on a Chloe Warrington 3-pointer. But Siemons answered right back with a huge 3 to make it 55-52 with 4:17 to play.
The Skyhawks would get within 59-58 on a reverse layup by Katrina Chandler with 1:41 to go, and that forced a timeout from Wagner. FLC would get a steal from Sydney Candelaria out of the timeout, and freshman forward Jordan Vasquez scored a layup to give the Skyhawks their last lead at 60-59 with 1:07 to play.
Only seconds later, Siemons hit the go-ahead 3-pointer to make it 62-60 Mavericks. She finished the game 5-of-17 shooting and 4-of-16 from 3-point range, as Colorado Mesa shot only 4-of-29 from 3 in the game.
“She shot 16 3-pointers. ... At some point, she’s gonna make some shots,” Griego said. “Unfortunately for us, it was at the end of the game. She hit two really big shots on us. We fell asleep a little bit I thought in our defensive concepts.”
FLC would turn it over to Sydni Brandon on th ensuing inbounds play, but the Skyhawks would get a defensive stop to get the ball back with 34.4 seconds to play.
Candelaria drove to the basket and missed a layup. Vasquez brought in an offensive layup and was hammered going up for a layup, but there was no whistle. She fought to get the ball back once more, and the refs signaled for a jump ball. FLC retained possession with 22.1 seconds to play.
The Skyhawks would work the ball into Vasquez, who had a brief chance to kick it out to Candelaria for a 3-point attempt, but Vasquez was surrounded by defenders. She was contacted and then moved her pivot foot. One referee signaled for a foul, but another referee overruled and called for the travel.
“We felt like we had a mismatch with her inside. We wanted to get her the ball. As we did, we knew they were going to collapse,” Griego said. “I thought the call could have gone either way, either a foul or a travel, but we can’t put the game in referees’ hands.”
Turner would make 1-of-2 free throws with 9.7 seconds to play to make it a three-point game. A tough 3 try from Candelaria would rim out for FLC, and the game would end with both teams scrambling for the rebound.
Several calls didn’t go FLC’s way and they have not gone FLC’s way often during this five game losing streak. It was the fifth game for the Skyhawks in their last six that have been decided by one possession or less.
“I thought some of the calls should have gone our way,” Griego said. “There are things I can do better as the head coach. That’s really what we gotta focus on. We can’t control the referees. The things that we can control, we gotta do a better job of those things.”
FLC was led by Vasquez’s 17 points and 10 rebounds. It was her fourth double-double of her freshman season. Chandler added 12 points against her former team, while Aubre Fortner and Warrington each had seven points.
Colorado Mesa’s Siemons, Sierra McNicol and Tori Catlett played stifling defense on FLC in the post and held FLC junior forward Jordan Carter, the team’s leading scorer, to zero points and three rebounds in 19 minutes.
“I thought they played her really physical, really tough. She wasn’t able to get into a groove,” Griego said of Carter. “She was catching it really high, they were pushing her out really far. She wasn’t catching it in her comfort zone.”
Kylyn Rigsby hit several big shots for Colorado Mesa and finished with 10 points. Brandon added seven points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists. The Mavericks overcame the poor 3-point shooting and 18 turnovers to get the win.
Now, FLC is in a position where it feels it must win the final two games against Western Colorado and Adams State to make the conference tournament after being in fourth place in the RMAC only three weeks ago.
“I feel horrible for our girls. We’re fighting really hard and losing these games by two points, three points,” Griego said. “Those are the hardest losses. ... We know we have another tough game tomorrow. I know they’re tied for second place right now in our conference. It doesn’t get any easier. They are playing for something, we’re playing for something. Every game is tough.”