|Posted January 31, 2008|
Pack hoops squads up to the challenge of facing Fort Lewis
PUEBLO, Colo. - Lesser teams may shiver at the prospect of the
11th-ranked team in the country coming to town to make perhaps
another conquest. The ThunderWolves women's basketball team,
though, is viewing the visit of 18-1 conference foe Fort Lewis as a
The showdown, a rare matinee matchup that tips off at 12 p.m. Friday at the Colorado State Fair Events Center, is rich with hype and postseason ramifications. The Skyhawks are a perfect 11-0 in conference play, while the ThunderWolves have rebounded from a mediocre start to win six straight, currently finding themselves in second place in the RMAC Western Division with an 8-3 conference mark and a 14-5 overall record.
A win by Fort Lewis would practically assure that the Skyhawks get the top seed on the RMAC Shootout in March, with the ThunderWolves languishing a distant second in the division, and stuck in the middle of a logjam for the last several berths to the tournament.
But a win by the Pack would reshuffle all the expectations in the RMAC, leaving them trailing by just two games for the division's top spot. It would set up a rematch between the ThunderWolves and Skyhawks on Feb. 16 in Durango, in which both teams could be playing for all the marbles.
Though the task of knocking off the 11th-ranked team in the country may seem daunting, the ThunderWolves feel they have history as well as a mental edge on their side.
"Our kids are thinking that we have won the last five times we played them, including three times last year," Pack coach Kip Drown said. "They have much of that same group back this year. We know they're older and better this year, but we're very familiar with them. You don't have the fear factor you might have when you're playing somebody new."
But simply put, this Fort Lewis team isn't the one that had a fairly ordinary 14-13 season last year. In addition to being ranked 11th in the country, Fort Lewis boasts the best team field goal percentage in all of NCAA Division II, and the individual with the highest field goal percentage in the country. The Skyhawks' leading scorer, Allison Rosel, is shooting a 73.1 percent clip, tops in the nation, and leads the team with 14.0 points per game. She has done all of this coming off the bench, not having started a game at all this season. In a nutshell, Fort Lewis is a team rich with depth, from the starting five down through the bench, Drown said.
"One thing about Fort Lewis is that their top eight or nine kids have played in every game this season," Drown said. "They've been able to keep everybody on the floor, and they've had the good luck of not having any injuries. They are a good basketball team and they've had a magical year."
Magical or not, the Pack expects to go into this game with the confidence they can win. In addition to not having lost to Fort Lewis since Jan. 2006, the ThunderWolves have won nine of the last ten matchups with Fort Lewis in Pueblo, dating back to 1999. They also matchup well against Fort Lewis, as both boast accurate outside shooting (Fort Lewis and CSU-Pueblo are first and second in the conference in three-point shooting percentage), but have an advantage in the height department. Sarah Staggs (6-foot-1) and Lindsay Black (6-foot-2) have combined to block 61 shots, relying on a tenacious defense under the basket.
On the perimeter, the ThunderWolves boast one of the best transition defenses in the conference as far as steals are concerned, averaging nearly ten thefts per game. Unfortunately, only Fort Lewis is better, snagging a staggering 12.4 steals per game, tops in the conference.
"We need to try and extend our defense and take them out of their offensive rhythm," Drown said. "They're so difficult to defend, because they're shooting well on the perimeter and they're finishing plays inside, as well. The big thing is to not give them a lot of second shots and win the turnover battle."
A win over Fort Lewis would not only vault the Pack further into the upper stratosphere of the RMAC basketball standings, but would give the team their longest winning streak since 2004-05. If the team follows up a Fort Lewis win with a win over Mesa State Saturday, the team will have the longest winning-streak in school history.