UCCS eliminated in RMAC playoffs

By Doug Fitzgerald published March 1, 2006

DURANGO â€" The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs dug itself a hole too deep for even an inspired second-half defensive effort to overcome as the Mountain Lions were defeated 69-54 by the Fort Lewis Skyhawks Wednesday evening in the first round of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoffs.

The Mountain Lions pressed Fort Lewis to the point of despair to begin the second half. It took the Skyhawks 5:24 to register their first field goal of the second period and nearly three more minutes to get their second as UCCS cut a 22-point halftime deficit nearly in half.

“Defensively, I think they knew that they were playing to survive,” said UCCS coach Jessika Stratton of her team. “They knew they only had 20 minutes left. We forced Fort Lewis to take some hurried and rushed shots.

“In the first half, (the Skyhawks) were very patient.”

And that patience was the author of the deficit that proved too large to overcome.

“Fort Lewis played amazing,” said UCCS senior Jennine Sauter, who led the Mountain Lions with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. “They shot really well and thereâ€TMs not much you can do when a team shoots like that.”

No member of the UCCS team had ever played in a collegiate playoff game. In the first half, that unfamiliarity showed as Fort Lewis raced to a 46-24 lead.

Defensively, the Mountain Lions struggled with Fort Lewisâ€TM outstanding ball movement. Early, the Skyhawks passed around the perimeter to get open looks from 3-point range, which they knocked down with alarming regularity. Fort Lewis made seven of their 11 first-half 3-point attempts.

UCCSâ€TM answer was to launch themselves at potential shooters to the point that the defense looked like an acrobat act. Fort Lewis countered the fabulous flying Mountain Lions by driving past them for uncontested layups. The patient, disciplined Skyhawks shot 56.7 percent overall in the half.

“Itâ€TMs very hard to defend a team with so many good shooters,” said Stratton.

The lopsided first half had more to do with the Skyhawksâ€TM excellence than anything else. UCCS was simply unable to keep pace with a team playing at the top of its game.

“In spite of everything and in spite of digging ourselves a hole, we played hard the entire game,” said Sauter. “Iâ€TMm just proud to be a part of this team.”

And in the final analysis, thatâ€TMs what really mattered. The 2005-06 Mountain Lions werenâ€TMt expected to make the playoffs in the first place. For Sauter, Mackenzie Knobbe and Julie Richards, each of whom played their final collegiate game Wednesday night and each of whom toiled on UCCSâ€TM behalf for four years, the playoff appearance was the exclamation point to their careers. A furth senior, Maribeth Martinez, played two years at UCCS.

“I think we started something big,” said Knobbe. “We started a tradition here at UCCS. This year, it was the final eight. Next year, itâ€TMll be the final four or the final two. We lit the spark.”

“This is a great group of girls,” added Richards between the tears of emotion that were a stark contrast to her dominant on-court persona. Then Richards and Sauter embraced.

“Iâ€TMm so proud of this team,” said Sauter. “Weâ€TMve overcome a lot and had a lot of bumps in the road and still made it to the conference tournament which was the biggest goal for us.”

And who could ask for a better legacy than that?

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Jennine SauterJennine Sauter21FFr.
Jennine SauterJennine Sauter21FSo
Jennine SauterJennine Sauter21FJr.
Jennine SauterJennine Sauter21FSr.
Mackenzie KnobbeMackenzie Knobbe33GSo
Mackenzie KnobbeMackenzie Knobbe34GFr.
Mackenzie KnobbeMackenzie Knobbe33GJr.
Mackenzie KnobbeMackenzie Knobbe33GJr.
Julie RichardsJulie Richards40CSo
Julie RichardsJulie Richards40CFr.
Julie RichardsJulie Richards40CJr.
Julie RichardsJulie Richards40CSr.
Maribeth MartinezMaribeth Martinez14GJr.
Maribeth MartinezMaribeth Martinez14G
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