Bench players provide spark in Mavericks' win
You might not recognize the names right away, but the players deep on the bench for the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team introduced themselves in a big way Saturday night.
Midway through the second quarter, CMU coach Taylor Wagner had seen enough lackluster defense from his regulars.
In came five bench players, three of whom rarely get playing time — Kassidy Fair, Kelli Van Tassel and Tine Randrup-Thomsen — along with backup point guard Jerrilyn Maluyo and backup post Kerstin Strong.
“It was a smart decision. The starting five out there were not cutting it,” said Bryanna Adams, who led the Mavericks with 26 points in the their 87-56 victory over Western State.
“We didn’t have the energy we wanted, and that second group brought it. That’s what we need. They won the game for us right there. They got it started, got us back on track, and that’s what we needed. They were great.”
For the final 5 minutes and 13 seconds of the second quarter, that group extended CMU’s lead from four points to 10 before the Mountaineers scored four straight to cut it to 38-32 at halftime.
When the teams came back out for the second half, the reserves took the court.
“The girls who came in were excited on the floor,” said Strong, who finished with nine points and four rebounds. “None of us get a lot of playing time. When you get it, you’ve got to take advantage of it.
“He was trying to send a message to some girls who maybe weren’t working hard all the time. When they went back in they picked it up a little bit. He didn’t say too much, just something different, put us in there and see how it goes.”
By the time they exited, the reserves had handed the starters a 10-point lead again, 47-37.
More importantly, they had sent the message, earned Wagner’s trust and drew a loud ovation from the crowd.
“The thing I really appreciated, the girls that played, when they walked off that court, got a great ovation from the crowd,” Wagner said. “That’s Maverick basketball, and this town appreciates girls who work hard. I think some of the girls ... I don’t know what they think. They’re not doing it, so we’re sending a message.”
Wagner had the Mavericks (12-7, 9-6 RMAC) pressing and trapping early in the game, and it helped them create some energy early, taking a 15-7 lead, but the Mountaineers (4-13, 2-13) cut the deficit to two points at the end of the first quarter and started getting the ball inside with ease.
That’s when Wagner went to the end of the bench, and immediately the tenor of the game changed. Fair pulled up for a jumper and was fouled and hit both free throws. Randrup-Thomsen stole the ball, and Maluyo buried a 3-pointer for a 35-23 lead. After another steal by Maluyo, Van Tassel got open in the corner for a 3-pointer, and Randrup-Thomsen added another.
Coming out for the third quarter, the reserves certainly didn’t let up.
Maluyo took a pass from Van Tassel for a 3-pointer, then Strong blocked a shot to start a fast break.
Van Tassel’s layup rimmed out, but Strong grabbed the offensive rebound to reset the offense. Fair found her on a pick and roll for a layup and a 46-34 lead less than two minutes into the half.
“They set the tone out there,” said Adams, who tied her career high with six 3-pointers made. “When we go back in, we (have to) continue it, even bring more energy because we’re rested and ready. It definitely sent a message to us that we need to be ready. If we’re not, someone else will be.”
And when the starters checked back in, they showed they were ready, pushing that 10-point lead to 18 in three minutes, moving the ball on offense and challenging shots on defense.
In the second and third quarters, Mesa’s bench outscored Western’s 27-4, and for the game, Mesa’s reserves scored 51 points to WSC’s 11.
“They did great,” Wagner said. “They played hard, they hit shots, they guarded. They came out in the second half and did the same thing. I think they got a little bit tired, but I was happy for them. It was a critical point in the game; it could have gone the other way. They made shots and shared the basketball, and it was good to see that teamwork from them.”
Ashley Stevens scored 14 points for the Mavericks, who shot more 3-pointers (41) than 2-pointers (22), making 16 from long range.
Wagner hopes the Mavericks realize their playing time is earned, and he won’t hesitate to go to the bench as they push toward the RMAC Shootout.
“That’s the one thing I want to see as a coach, and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. “You’re going to earn it in practice. If you’ve started all year and think you’re starting on Friday, there’s no guarantee. Same thing at halftime. If you’re not playing hard, we’re going to play the girls who are playing hard and playing Maverick basketball.”