Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Monday’s game opened with Fort Lewis College looking as sluggish as it did in the second half Sunday night against Colorado Mesa University.
The Skyhawks, however, engineered a much more palatable finish.
The Fort Lewis women’s basketball team forced 15 second-half turnovers and scored 11 points from the line to overcome a poor shooting second half to top Western State Colorado University 59-49 on Monday at Whalen Gymnasium in both teams’ final game before breaking for the holidays.
“That puts us at 2-3 in the conference with a chance to hang in there,” Fort Lewis head coach Jason Flores said. “That’s what we needed it to be coming out of (Monday).”
Fort Lewis (3-6, 2-3 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) and Western State each hit on just 27 percent of their field goal attempts after halftime, but it was FLC’s ability to switch to a zone defense, then back to man and so on that flummoxed the Mountaineers (1-9, 1-5 RMAC).
“We kind of switched defenses in the second half. We were kind of grinding, and we weren’t hitting on all cylinders, that’s for sure” Flores said.
“We had to change something, so we changed up what we were doing defensively.”
That renewed defensive effort allowed the Skyhawks to overcome poor shooting; they outscored Western State 25-11 in points off turnovers, and Fort Lewis held a 25-19 advantage in turnovers.
“It kept that like distance where we weren’t scoring, but unlike other games, we were able to sustain and keep them from scoring for long droughts,” Flores said. “There were a couple times where they didn’t get a good look at the basket for a stretch.”
Aggression on offense helped, as well.
The Skyhawks were turned away repeatedly when trying to get into the lane in Sunday’s loss to Colorado Mesa, but they flipped the script Monday, driving into the paint to hold a 22-8 advantage in points in the paint and a 11-4 advantage in made free throws in the second half.
“I think a lot of the games we’ve played so far, we kind of lived with the jump shot, die by the jump shot,” guard Erika Richards said. “We just need to keep pushing it into the paint and ... keep getting easy buckets.”
The key run for the Skyhawks came in the middle of the second half.
The Fort Lewis women used a 10-0 run to turn a 33-all tie into a 43-33 advantage with 9:51 to play, and Fort Lewis was able to keep Western State at arms length down the stretch.
“I think the zone definitely bothered them a lot,” Richards said. “They couldn’t find the gaps early on.”
Fort Lewis, however, had to overcome a sluggish start.
The Mountaineers opened the game on a 13-2 run against the off-kilter Skyhawks, but Fort Lewis eventually regained composure to lead for the first time at 23-22, thanks to seven of Richards’ game-high 13 points and eight of Katerina Garcia’s 12 points.
“We were upset with ourselves, and coach kind of got into us,” Richards said. “And we knew we needed to turn it around on the defensive end because that’s where we were getting killed at the time.”
Jade MacIntosh took advantage of the FLC defense early and led WSCU with 12 points, while Natalie Markovich added 10.
The Skyhawks now head into the holiday break before opening Jan. 4 and 5 with road games against Chadron State and Black Hills State, where they’ll look to get on a bit of a run and put themselves back in the RMAC title picture.