Friday’s game is too important for the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team to get caught looking ahead to a showdown with the second-ranked team in the country.
FLC (14-10, 11-9 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) sits in a tie for fifth-place in the RMAC heading into the final two games of the regular season. The Skyhawks can jump into the top four and into a home conference tournament game with a couple of wins and a Colorado Christian (14-11, 12-9 RMAC) loss to Colorado Mines (11-14, 10-11 RMAC).
It won’t be easy for the FLC women to win both home games this weekend, as No. 2 Colorado Mesa (24-0, 20-0 RMAC) visits Saturday. That makes Friday’s game against Western State (5-20, 5-15 RMAC) an absolute must win.
“That is an understatement,” FLC women’s head coach Jason Flores said. “We put ourselves in a position of having to win Friday. We know that. If we don’t win Friday, we are not going to be playing at home.”
It hasn’t been difficult to keep the team focused on Friday’s game despite the Mountaineers’ poor record, Flores said. Western State has lost 13 consecutive games while posting a 3-9 record on the road this season. FLC handed the Mountaineers a 78-66 loss when the two teams played Dec. 21.
“All of our focus has been on Western this week. We haven’t even started to talk about Mesa,” Flores said. “Saturday’s game doesn’t matter if we lose the other game. It is not like (the players) are all clueless about Saturday, but we have to be so careful about not thinking about that game before we handle business Friday.”
FLC senior Ashley Kuchar led FLC past Western State with 22 points in the previous matchup. Kuchar’s fellow seniors Christie Groh and Erika Richards both reached double-digit scoring with 13 and 16 points, respectively.
Groh and Richards are coming off career scoring highs in last Friday’s 89-88 overtime win at Metro State (12-12, 11-9 RMAC). Groh scored 29 points, and Richards finished with 27 points.
FLC couldn’t carry that momentum over into last Saturday’s 81-71 loss to Regis (15-9, 13-7 RMAC), who now has a firm grasp on third place in the RMAC standings thanks to that victory.
That loss will have FLC paying extra attention to the scores from around the conference as they try to climb one spot up the standings.
“We are watching a lot of teams. A lot of teams have tough road trips. We are fortunate to be at home, but we have the No. 2-ranked team in the country Saturday. Everyone has challenges,” Flores said. “There are so many scenarios out there.”
The Skyhawks hope Saturday’s game is meaningful for reasons beyond a chance at upsetting Division II’s No. 2. It will be a tough task, and Colorado Mesa already owns an 89-65 win against FLC on Dec. 20.
Richards led FLC with 21 points on 50-percent shooting from the field in the first matchup. Sharaya Selsor led the CMU Mavericks with 29 points – 14 of which came from the free throw line. Selsor also had eight rebounds and six assists in the win.
FLC trailed by only two points at one point in the second half in that loss, and Flores believes his team can hang tough with the Mavericks if they improve in the rebounding department, where they were beat 43-29 the first time around.
“It should be a fun game, and it is too big of a game to let any other factors like senior-night emotions come into play,” Flores said. “If we play out of sorts at all, we are in trouble. Senior night should be more of a celebration than anything, and it usually isn’t a distraction.”
Flores hopes to see a packed house for each of the final two games as the men and women both compete for a chance to earn one final home game this season.
“We have been gone a few weeks, and it is always great to play (at Whalen Gymnasium),” Flores said. “It is an exciting weekend for the fans with two teams that are traditional rivalries for us. Both the men and women are hoping for great turnouts.”