Coming back from the holiday break, South Dakota School of Mines women’s basketball coach Ryan Larsen said he was a little worried with how his players would respond.

As it turned out, those worries were unfounded, as the Hardrockers heated up inside on a frigid day outside, running past New Mexico Highlands 86-47 Saturday at Goodell Gymnasium in the King Center.

The Hardrockers, 4-3 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play and 9-4 overall, were especially on fire from the outside, hitting 15-of-27 3-pointers.

From the obvious: “We came out and shot it really well. That helps,” Larsen said with a smile.

Mines also played strong defense, especially in the second half, holding the Cowgirls to just 36 percent shooting from the field, 32 in the second half. Mines forced 21 turnovers and had 12 steals.

“We had eight days off, so did our kids get in the gym and get some shots? Did they stay in shape for the most part?” Larsen said. “Then you come back, have three practices and play. I’m not going to lie. I was a little concerned about exactly how we would play. We answered the bell.”

Highlands had just 16 field goals in the contest and only once — in the second period — did Larsen feel the need to stop action and talk things over. A quick timeout diffused the Cowgirls’ momentum.

“Defensively, especially in the second half, we were really sharp,” Larsen said. “In the first half I felt like we were a little flat at times; I wanted more energy. When I called the timeout we had back-to-back bad ball-screen defenses. Just a lack of communication.”

The Hardrockers led 19-7 at the end of the first period and 35-21 at halftime.

Mines freshman Ryan Weiss said that coming off the break, they wanted to come out strong right from the start.

“In the first half, we didn’t come out as strong as we would have liked, but we responded really well in the second half,” she said. “Defensively, we really picked it up and turned them over. That really led into our offense and we were able to find some open shots playing faster. It’s a lot of fun when we play fast.”

As is often the case, defense leads into strong offense. Mines passed the ball well, especially from the post — and the perimeter shooters did the rest.

Larsen said that they had good looks, and his posts can almost be little too unselfish at times. The ‘Rockers had 17 assists out of their 31 field goals, with Anna Haugen dishing it back for three 3-pointers.

“We’re pretty hard to guard when we shoot it that way,” Larsen said. “Hopefully that doesn’t come back and haunt us, as we’ve been saying for a long time that if our 3s aren’t going in, how are we going to score? But when they are falling, we’re going to let them fly.”

Sami Steffeck, Weiss, Cooper Courtney and Payton Humpal all had three 3-pointers for the Hardrockers.

“It’s fun when we are all sharing the ball real well,” Weiss said. “Anna Haugen was getting in there and looking for us on the perimeter, really finding our shooters.”

Mines outscored the Cowgirls 26-13 in the third and 25-13 in the fourth to breeze to the win. Steffeck and junior Taylor Molstad led the way with 15 points each; Molstad added a pair of 3-pointers as well.

Weiss finished with 13 points and Courtney chipped in with11.

As a freshman, Weiss said she really didn’t know how much time she would get as she has been trying to fix some things defensively and get used to the system.

“I think I have gotten a lot better,” she said. “The team and coaches have been patient with me adjusting to the new systems. The opportunity came and I got a start and expand my role in that way.”

The Hardrockers turn around and play the same Highlands team next week, this time on the road. First, they’ll be in Pueblo, Colo., to face a good Colorado State-Pueblo team on Friday and they take on Highlands Saturday in Las Vegas, N.M.

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