STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
The more time that passes, the more the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team looks like the one that fans have grown to know and love over the last six years.
More importantly, they look less like the team that started 1-5 this season.
A hot-shooting first half and quality pressure defense helped stake the Skyhawks to a lead as big as 26 points before the Fort Lewis College women picked up a 78-58 victory Friday over New Mexico Highlands at Whalen Gymnasium.
Fort Lewis (6-6, 5-3 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) has found the balance it’s sought offensively over the last two games. The Skyhawks had all five starters score in double figures for the second consecutive game, led by Ashley Kuchar’s 15.
“When we all have balanced scoring, it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the girls coming in,” point guard Alex Easterbrook said. “So when we start out well like that and everyone’s balanced, we know we’re playing and getting shots off assists and not playing selfish.”
Christie Groh and Easterbrook had 14 apiece, while Katerina Garcia and Erika Richards, who had seven rebounds, chipped in 12 each.
Unselfishness had a lot to do with the Skyhawks’ offensive successes.
Easterbrook just missed a double-double with nine assists, while Garcia had seven as Fort Lewis totaled 26 for the game on 31 made field goals.
“We still had 26 assists, and that’s a big number, and it’s still six more assists than turnovers. For us to be really good, that’s our team,” Fort Lewis head coach Jason Flores said. “We’ve got to share the ball. We’ve got to score a lot off assists.”
Easterbrook said Fort Lewis made some subtle switches to its press over the holiday break, and it paid off Friday, as the Skyhawks forced 27 turnovers and allowed just 14 assists. Highlands (3-10, 3-6 RMAC) hit only 35 percent from the field in the first half and 40 percent for the game.
“It’s a little more aggressive now. We’re more in to trap, and we’re kind of attacking more, and I think it’s hard to handle as an opposing team,” Easterbrook said.
The Skyhawks, meanwhile, made 58 percent of their shots in the first half before a little lull early in the second half let Highlands crawl back within 16 points.
A 13-2 run late in the frame helped push Fort Lewis to a 52-26 halftime advantage.
The key was dribble penetration. For most of the game, the Skyhawks were able to find room either along the baseline or in the paint for layups or drive-and-kick opportunities, and when they were aggressive, the Cowgirls didn’t seem to have an answer.
“Coming in, we thought we could get some good looks in our transition game. ... There were times, you’re right, that we did that, and I think we kind of took the lead because of that,” Flores said.
“I think it was good because it makes us a diverse team and makes us really hard to guard,” Easterbrook said. “So we had a lot of shooters, but when they come out and they guard the shot, and we drive past them, it opens up so much more.”
Kate Cryderman led Highlands with 16 points, while the Cowgirls’ leading scorer, Alyssa Lopez, took just eight shots and scored 12.
The only real disappointing number for Fort Lewis was its 20 turnovers, something the Skyhawks will look to correct beginning at 5:30 p.m. today, when Western New Mexico visits Whalen Gymnasium.
Western New Mexico’s women won their first RMAC game of the year Friday night 63-50 over Adams State.