Skyhawks scratch, claw past UCCS

Katerina Garcia wasn’t about to let this one slip away.

She drove hard down the right side of the lane, seizing an opening and drawing a foul with 2.6 seconds left.

And after not having shot a single free throw all night, she calmly sank a pair.

One Ashley Kuchar pass breakup later, and the Skyhawks had a critical weekend sweep.

Garcia’s heroics capped a 17-point evening, and despite shooting just 32 percent Saturday, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team rode its free-throw shooting and defensive effort for a 65-63 victory over UC-Colorado Springs in a matchup of two of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s best teams.

“My handles aren’t too bad,” Garcia said. “So if you want to guard me tight, guard me tight. I like it.

“And if you knew me in high school, you knew my free throws were absolutely terrible. So I’d say I’ve come a long way from that,” she said with a laugh.

Make no mistake, it was far from the more artistic effort in Friday’s win over CSU-Pueblo. Put this one in the grit and hustle column instead.

FLC trailed for nearly the entire game before taking a 63-61 lead with 3 minutes, 13 seconds to play. A Kellie Krueger Layup with a minute to play tied things at 63, and a Kuchar charge gave UCCS the ball with a chance to take the lead.

But the Mountain Lions were called for a 3-second violation with 17.8 left, and FLC head coach Jason Flores called timeout with 11.8 seconds to play and drew up what turned out to be the decisive play.

UCCS shot 50 percent in the first half, and the only reason the Skyhawks were within 35-32 at intermission was their 10 made free throws. Krueger was using her up-and-under move and ball fakes en route to 21 points, and Abby Kirchoff used an early spate of 11 free throws as part of her 19 points to keep UCCS up early in the second half.

But the Fort Lewis defense stiffened after halftime, holding UCCS to 30 percent shooting from the field and no 3-pointers, and Fort Lewis forced a rebounding stalemate in the second half after being outrebounded by seven before intermission by a taller Mountain Lions squad.

“It was tough. It was a grind-it-out kind of game. ... This is the kind of game, it’s a character test,” Flores said.

Erika Richards had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Skyhawks (14-8, 13-5 RMAC), and Alex Easterbrook added 11 and nine boards. Lauren Wolfinger added 12 for the Mountain Lions (17-5, 14-4 RMAC).