Mavs’ quest for perfect season falls 1 short
The perfect season fell by the wayside Saturday in Durango, as the Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team fell victim to cold shooting in a 76-70 loss to Fort Lewis on the final night of the regular season.
The Skyhawks, fighting to earn a home game in the first round of the RMAC Shootout and move into contention in the South Central Region, pulled off the upset of the second-ranked team in the nation behind senior Erika Richards, who scored a game-high 37 points.
“Looking at the stats, I don’t think anyone guarded her,” CMU coach Taylor Wagner said. “She was big on her senior night. She just hit everything, every shot she wanted.”
Mesa (25-1, 21-1 RMAC) hosts CU-Colorado Springs (13-13, 12-10) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the first round of the RMAC Shootout at Brownson Arena. If Mesa wins, the semifinals and championship game will also be at Brownson.
CSU-Pueblo is the No. 2 seed and plays Metro State. Fort Lewis vaulted into the No. 3 spot and hosts Black Hills State, with No. 4 Regis hosting Colorado Christian.
Sharaya Selsor guarded Richards early, but got into foul trouble, so the Mavericks tried a variety of players on her, but it didn’t matter. Every time the Mavericks, who trailed for all but a couple of minutes, got the momentum, there was Richards to snatch it back.
Mesa’s first lead came after Selsor, who was out for long stretches because of foul trouble, hit a 3 to tie the game at 59-59 with 5:50 to play.
Twenty-five seconds later, Leanndra Gilbert stole the ball and got it to Christen Lopez, who beat the defense down the floor for a layup and a 61-59 lead.
Ashley Kuchar, though, answered with a jumper to tie it again, and after Hannah Pollart hit one of two free throws, Richards went inside for a bucket and a 63-62 Fort Lewis lead.
The Mavericks, who scored 32 points in the paint, went inside to Aubry Boehme for a layup with 4:49 to play, going back up one, 64-63.
Richards, though, buried one of her five 3-pointers with 4:35 left for a 66-64 lead, and the Skyhawks didn’t trail again.
“She just had a great night,” Wagner said. “She made tough shots, and we were guarding her. She was determined. You saw her before the game with the senior gifts, and she was the one crying. You saw how special it was and meant so much to her and she came out and played great.”
Fort Lewis was determined not to let the Mavericks beat them from the perimeter, so Colorado Mesa went inside to Boehme, who responded with 24 points, tying her season high.
“They took everything away on the perimeter,” Wagner said. “That was the one thing they were going to give us so we kept going back there and it worked.”
Mesa shot only 20 percent from the 3-point line, hitting five of 25, and made only one of 10 from the arc in the first half, digging itself a 10-point hole at one point.
“You can’t do that against good teams, and you can’t do it at the end of the year,” Wagner said. “It was 61-59 and we had the momentum changed and we stopped guarding, we sent 90 percent free-throw shooters to the line and they made the plays in the last couple of minutes.”
And the team that shoots 75 percent from the free-throw line made only 13 of 21 (61.9 percent), including missing the front end of two crucial one-and-one chances down the stretch.
“We missed those front end of the one-and-one the last couple of minutes,” Wagner said. “Free throws were a big thing. You have to make them in a tight game.”
Selsor picked up her fourth foul with 12:17 to play in the game and went to the bench for nearly 5½ minutes. Mesa was down only one at the time, and about one minute after checking in, she hit the crucial 3-pointer to tie the game.
“That hurt a lot,” Wagner said of losing Selsor, the leading scorer in the conference, for major minutes. She still scored 22 points in 31 minutes. “You take a defender out, and even when she was in, they went right at her. It hurts when you’re in foul trouble with a scorer, defender, ballhandler.”
With the loss, the Mavericks will need to win the RMAC Shootout and “hope they lose one,” Wagner said of West Texas A&M, which is No. 2 in the South Central Region behind the Mavericks. The Buffs finished the regular season 24-2 an are the No. 1 seed in the Lone Star Conference tourney.