The South Dakota School of Mines women’s basketball team was tired of getting weekend splits.
At 5-4 heading into Friday’s game with Adams State, the opportunity arose for the Hardrockers to get two wins after stopping the Grizzlies Friday night. The problem: Fort Lewis, ranked No. 13 in the country, was the Saturday opponent.
As it turned out, it was no problem for Mines, as the Hardrockers pulled away in the final minutes for a big 73-63 victory at Goodell Gymnasium.
It was the first time a Mines women’s basketball team had beaten a top 15 program in the Division II era.
“We needed to start getting two in-a-row, three in-a-row, three out-of-four, that type of deal, so we could get up in the standings and move away from that logjam a little bit. This wins helps us,” Mines coach Ryan Larsen said. “It all could come down to a tiebreak situation. Fort Lewis is going to sweep some teams that we split with, so we will have a tiebreak there.
“We’ve been talking since Christmas break that it was time to hit our stride a little bit. I think that game proved that we are starting a motion to hit our stride.”
The win moved the Hardrockers to 7-4 in league play and 12-5 on the season, setting one some nice momentum for the first of two annual rivalry games Tuesday with Black Hills State University in Spearfish.
“This win is huge for us,” Mines sophomore forward Anna Haugen said. “We were pumped for this game. We hadn’t been able to get a sweep for a while, so that felt good. It was really just a team win. We haven’t been able to hit our stride in a while, so I think we’re starting to get there and that showed up on the court today.”
Fort Lewis went into the weekend 15-1 and second in the conference, and despite a loss Friday night at BHSU, the Skyhawks have one of the top offenses around. The key for Mines, Larsen said, was execution on defense.
The Hardrockers executed about as well as they could, especially in the first half.
“Credit Coach Flores and Fort Lewis to make some adjustments to get their offense going,” Larsen said, ‘but we were able to make enough shots, and timely shots, and key stops to get that sucker taken care of.”
A 22-6 advantage in the second quarter was also key for Mines, which led 30-16 at halftime and 51-45 heading into the fourth quarter. The Hardrockers led by as much as 16 points in the final period before Fort Lewis came back to cut the lead to three.
But Mines got key 3-pointers from freshman Ryan Weiss and junior Taylor Molstad, and two straight big baskets from sophomore Cooper Courtney, and returned to form defensively to pull away for the victory.
It was all about keeping their exposure when it got tight, Haugen said.
“He had to keep doing what we do, get down on the defensive end and get stops and find rebounds, and find our shots on the offense end,” she said.
Larsen said it is tough to play catch-up with a team like Fort Lewis, and if they could have scripted it, this is how they would have done it.
“We got stops, we got a lot of stops in that second quarter,” he said. “We were able to get out and turn up the pace in that quarter. Payton (Humpal) hit a couple of 3s from the corner, and really got us going. It is one of those games where our offense fed off of our defense tonight.”
Haugen had a big game for the Hardrockers and was critical defensively in slowing down Fort Lewis Vivian Gray, one of the top scorers in the league.
“We put a lot of responsibility on her guarding Vivian Gray some of the game,” Larsen said. “We had a kid designated for them that we were going to double off of, and she was there every single time to help on Vivian Gray.
Molstad also guarded Gray as well.
“She (Gray) had 21 points, but she took 20 shots. We knew that was going to happen,” Larsen said. “She is going to score some, but she was going to take a lot of shots to get it. The same thing with (Astrea) Reed. Every basket they made they were going to have to earn.”
Haugen filled up the stat sheet, with 11 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and six steals.
“I was just trying to play for my teammates,” she said. “I needed to work my butt off and give 100 percent. For me that is rebounding and find the open player because they are going to hit shots. I believe in my teammates a lot. It was a really fun game.”
Molstad finished with 17 points, including 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, 6-of-6 in the final 25 seconds. Courtney also finished in double figures with 12 points. Mines was 10-of-20 from beyond the 3-point line and 19-of-23 from the free throw line.
Along with Gray’s 21 and 15 from Reed. Alyssa Yocky scored 14 for Fort Lewis, which fell to 9-3 in league play and 15-3 overall.