Sharing is caring for No. 22 Skyhawks

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo

Fort Lewis College point guard Matt Mazarei has been strong with the basketball in his hands this season. After spending a good chunk of the regular season first in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, the Skyhawks’ senior currently is second in that category and is leading a balanced attack for the 22nd-ranked team in the country.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

At times, basketball is a simple game, if broken down to its most basic form.

And one of the simplest axioms is the less you turn the ball over, the better your chances of winning increase.

The No. 22 Fort Lewis College basketball team is a clear-cut example. The Skyhawks have lost every game in which they’ve had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.

Fortunately, that’s happened to them just six times, and they’ve eked out wins in a pair of those games.

In other words, it doesn’t happen all that often, and a big reason for that is FLC’s point-guard play, particularly that of starter Matt Mazarei. The senior guard is second nationally with a 3.37 assist-to-turnover ratio, and for several weeks earlier this season, he was tops nationally.

Experience has plenty to do with his ability to avoid mental mistakes and turnovers.

Mazarei put it a different way.

“I’m old,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just experience really and not to overreact and just be calm out there. That’s my main goal in the game is just to be as calm as possible. If I’m calm, I treat that ball like it’s my baby.”

He’s been hampered a bit by injury over the last couple of weeks, head coach Bob Hofman said, which has hampered his numbers a bit. But Hofman, who’ll never be confused for a fervent stat hound, said he’s most pleased with the way Mazarei eschews trying to make the overly spectacular play to make the smart decision.

“He obviously has to use his head, and I think he’s done a really good job of recognizing situations – when to penetrate and kick or when to penetrate and dump to Alex (Herrera),” Hofman said. “He’s done a really good job of that all season, kind of understanding our offense and what we need of him, and he’s come in here in his second year and really been a great catalyst for us.”

It’s not a game of great flash Mazarei plays but one of subtle substance. And it’s one that’s helped shore up what was a trouble spot last year for the Skyhawks. Last year, FLC turned the ball over 421 times against just 350 assists. Currently, the Skyhawks have 290 assists against just 261 turnovers as a unit.

And as a big catalyst in that area, Mazarei has gone from 10 starts in a crowded backcourt last year to starting all 19 games and averaging 24.1 minutes per game.

Helping lead the way along Mazarei is fellow senior Marcus Ayala, who had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio last season. This year, he’s on the positive side with 42 dimes against 29 miscues.

“If we don’t turn the ball over, it’s an example for everyone else,” Mazarei said. “Obviously we handle the ball the most, so if everyone sees us not turning the ball over, they have the confidence to not turn it over, either.”

The duo’s abilities really do trickle down on a team-wide basis. FLC is second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in assists per game and has the fourth-lowest number of turnovers per contest heading into a 7:30 p.m. tipoff today against CSU-Pueblo.

“Coach obviously was a point guard in college, so he emphasizes valuing the ball probably most of anything at practice, so it’s just been blueprinted in everybody’s head not to turn the ball over,” said Mazarei, who referenced his coach’s playing days at the University of Colorado.

Statistically, the better the Skyhawks (15-4, 12-4 RMAC) share, the better their chances of victory.

“The games where we have not been successful are the games where we haven’t been as good in assist-to-turnover ratio,” Hofman said. “And I’m not a big stat guy; I prefer to call them idiot sheets. Sometimes they don’t really tell you much that you wouldn’t have known anyway, but I think assist-to-turnover ratio shows ... are you just making the easy plays? Are you unselfish?”

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