Back to business on their home floor, the Fort Lewis Skyhawks made quick work of Friday night’s game.
Next up: the No. 2 team in the country.
FLC (15-10, 12-9 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) climbed past the Western State Colorado Mountaineers (5-21, 5-16 RMAC) by establishing a big first-half lead. The Skyhawks connected on their first four 3-point shot attempts of the game while quickly building a 10-point lead just three minutes into the game.
FLC took a 49-27 lead into halftime. That cushion only grew larger in the second half as the Skyhawks secured an 88-61 victory.
“I really liked the way we came out. We were focused, and I think our seniors really kind of led the charge on that right from the get-go,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said. “It was great to see because this was a tough game ahead of a big game (Saturday) night.”
The win was massive for the Skyhawks as they try to finish the regular season Saturday in the top four of the RMAC standings. FLC jumped up to the fourth spot in the conference after the victory, but they remain tied in the conference standings with Colorado Christian and Metro State. The Skyhawks are one game behind Regis for third place in the conference standings.
FLC hopes to hang tight in the fourth spot, but it won’t come easy Saturday night when FLC will welcome No. 2 and undefeated Colorado Mesa (25-0, 21-0 RMAC) to Whalen Gym.
“All week, all I heard was, ‘What about Mesa?’ We had to take care of this game before we could look to (Saturday),” Flores said. “We did what we needed to do. Sometimes it is hard, but credit our players for focusing and getting a good margin of victory and a good win for us.”
Before the Skyhawks could focus on Mesa, they had to get past a Mountaineers team that now has lost 14 games in a row.
FLC seniors Christie Groh and Ashley Kuchar each hit two 3-pointers in the game’s opening minutes. Groh, a 6-1 forward who usually dominates the game from the low post, stepped into her 3-point attempts with confidence.
“When you feel it, you feel it,” said Groh, who finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
FLC senior guard Erika Richards led FLC offensively with a team-high 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
Kuchar finished with 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting as all three FLC seniors scored in double figures.
“It is senior weekend ... and we are really fired up just to play great games this weekend,” Richards said. “Every game is important right now for us because we are in kind of an iffy position in the RMAC and the region as well. We knew we had to get this one for sure.”
FLC forward Kaile Magazzeni also had a big night for the Skyhawks. The junior finished with 11 points and a team-high six rebounds. She also recorded three blocks and two assists.
The Mountaineers played to the Skyhawks’ strengths, quickly moving the ball up and down the floor. Western State turned the ball over 21 times, and the Skyhawks blocked seven shots.
Jade McIntosh led Western State with 23 points.
The Skyhawks dominated every inch of the floor, winning the rebounding battle 41-36 and scoring 28 points in the paint to just six points in the paint for Western State. The Skyhawks also converted 16 fast-break points.
FLC was able to rest its starters the majority of the second half. Players such as Kate Bayes and Ande Lampert excelled when they saw the floor. Bayes had eight points in 16 minutes, and Lampert scored seven points in nine minutes of action.
“The worst part of being the coach is not being able to play everyone,” Flores said. “A lot of deserving players got to play, and we got to rest players who will play bigger minutes (Saturday).”
Colorado Mesa and FLC will tip off at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Flores said he expects a great game in the Mavericks’ first trip to Durango in the last four meetings between the teams.
“It is exciting to get this game at home. I think we are a better team at home,” Flores said. “We have a pretty good crowd that will be fired up.”
Richards said beating the No. 2 begins with the team’s mindset.
“We just gotta be focused. It is such a big game. We have to be able to come in (Saturday) morning with a mindset at shootaround that we will compete and take it to them,” Richards said. “We want to make sure we don’t let senior night emotions get the best of us. We want to use it in a positive way so we can compete with one of the best teams in the country.”