It was the first game all season sophomore forward Jordan Vasquez failed to score at least 20 points. Her career-high 14 rebounds were a big part of the difference in a one-point win, though.
Behind timely big plays from senior guard Sydney Candelaria and Vasquez’s double-double, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team fought through tired legs to secure a 51-50 win Friday night against Colorado Christian University. It was the first home win inside Whalen Gymnasium of the season for the Skyhawks (2-4, 2-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference), as they earned a season sweep of the Cougars (2-4, 2-4 RMAC) in the process.
“I’m just happy we got that one more point than they did,” Vasquez said. “I’m just glad we got the win.”
Five days earlier, the Skyhawks took a forfeit loss to South Dakota Mines because of COVID-19 issues that led the team into a seven-day quarantine. Several players did not practice until cleared Thursday, leading FLC head coach Orlando Griego to start two true freshmen in Iva Drobnjak and Ally Harvey, who combined to play 23 minutes Friday.
Griego played 11 players total in the team’s first game action since the winter break with limited practices since they returned Dec. 26.
“It wasn’t the prettiest, but we scored one more point than them and were able to get the win,” Griego said. “I am very proud of our team. We had a lot of odds stacked up against us with several players not being able to practice all week long and us having one team practice on Thursday and today having a shoot-around. I am very happy for my team playing together. This is a team victory today.”
Candelaria, senior guard Katrina Chandler and Vasquez combined to score 25 of FLC’s 30 points at halftime, when the Skyhawks held a 30-23 lead. Candelaria, who returned from an injury after playing in only two games before the winter break, finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. She had scored nine first-half points and was held without a basket through the second half until she recorded a steal under her own basket and finished a layup to give FLC a 47-45 lead with 5:45 to go in the fourth quarter.
“We’re grateful to have her out there. She was a big factor for us tonight,” said Griego, who added FLC has managed Candelaria’s workload and monitored her pain management closely since her return.
The Skyhawks had led the entire game until Colorado Christian outscored FLC 18-9 in the third quarter to take a 41-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Not only did Candelaria have the key steal and layup to help restore an FLC lead that would not be relinquished, she also played strong defense against Cougars guard Olivia Christy as she drove to the basket in the game’s final seconds looking to score the go-ahead basket or draw a foul to get to the free-throw line. Candelaria stayed in front of Christy with strong footwork and put her arms straight in the air to contest the shot. Christy missed, and Chandler came up with the rebound to secure the win for FLC with one second to play.
“She’s a great defender, and we’re going to give her a tough assignment night in and night out. She likes the challenge,” Griego said of Candelaria. “The coolest part as a coach was seeing the camaraderie between our entire team of saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been working on our defense. We got this, we got this.’ They believed in one another, and Sydney did a great job challenging her, and we came up with that rebound, which was huge.”
Chandler finished with 11 points and four rebounds for FLC.
Colorado Christian suffered the loss of star forward Lourdes Gonzalez early in the first quarter. She grabbed a rebound but went down on the floor after injuring her right ankle. She would return to the Cougars’ bench in the second half on crutches. One of the top scorers and rebounders in the RMAC, Gonzalez logged two points and one rebound in five minutes played.
“(Gonzalez) is a great player. She’s really tall and hustles really hard,” Vasquez said. “It was sad to see her go down.”
In her place, Brookelyn Hurlbut led CCU with a game-high 19 pints to go with 10 rebounds. FLC was able to force her into six turnovers, though.
Christy finished with 10 points, including a key 3-pointer with her team down 51-47 that gave the Cougars a chance in the final two minutes down only one point.
But neither team could make a shot down the stretch. With four fouls, Vasquez was able to avoid fouling out and came up with two key defensive rebounds to help the Skyhawks hang on.
“Being able to learn and adjust my game depending on who I am going against. I had to adjust to be smarter to not pick up that foul,” Vasquez said.
FLC will take a much-needed day of rest and go through a light practice Saturday to prepare for Metropolatin State University of Denver in a 2 p.m. Sunday game in Whalen Gymnasium. The Roadrunners (4-3, 3-2 RMAC) have won three games in a row coming into Sunday.
“It’s really nice to have a little bit of a break and be prepared for Metro,” Vasquez said. “It’s super nice to get this win. It helps us, and we just need to continue to do it.”