Stubborn defense propels Zia rally

Zia forward Tia Doss spins towards the basket and holds off Fort Lewis’ Amy Mohr with her left arm in the first half of Monday’s game at Greyhound Arena. Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson

By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Mika Robertson committed a cardinal sin — fouling a 3-point shooter — and with time running out in the half, no less.
Fort Lewis’ Nicole Quast sank all three free throws, giving the visiting Skyhawks a 13-point lead over Eastern New Mexico University at the intermission.

Not to worry, though, Robertson said.

The 5-foot-9 senior poured in three 3-pointers after the break and helped key a strong defensive effort by the Zias, who held Fort Lewis to 16 second-half points and rallied for a season-opening 57-53 win at Greyhound Arena.

“We just started off kind of rough; it was first-game jitters,” said Robertson, who finished with a game-best 19 points, easily surpassing her ENMU high since transferring from South Plains College last season. She also had a game-high eight rebounds.

The Skyhawks got off to a fast start from long range, hitting 8-of-14 in the opening half in building their 37-24 cushion. But they scored on just one of their first 17 possessions in the second half while committing 10 turnovers.

“They shot the lights out in the first half,” said Robertson, who had to spend time last year playing in the post because of the Zias’ lack of inside depth. “We just stayed with them on defense and finished the game out right.”

ENMU acting head coach Dustin Klafka said he knew the Skyhawks could shoot.

“We didn’t score very well in the first half, but the problem wasn’t on offense,” he said. “We weren’t getting (defensive) close-outs on them.

“This was a game where we wanted to get good on-ball pressure, and we were just a step slow. I thought we really picked up the on-ball pressure in the second half.”

The Zias, 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half, went 4-for-7 after the break. They took the lead 44-43 with 8:07 left on a basket by junior Tia Doss as the shot clock was about to run out.

ENMU stayed in front the rest of the way, although never leading by more than five points. Robertson missed a the front end of a one-and-one with 19 seconds remaining and the Zias up by two, but guard Heather Brown helped force a turnover by Quast on the Skyhawks’ next trip down.

ENMU’s Laci Lee sealed the Zais’ season-opening win by hitting two free throws with 1.5 seconds left.

Neither Lee nor Brown, the Zias’ starting guards, scored in the first half. But Robertson (9 points) and senior Tiana Bryant (8) helped keep the team within some striking distance.

“We’ve got kids who can hit shots,” Klafka said. “Laci and Heather are going to score. Offensively, we’re a little sluggish right now. We’ve just got to get to where we understand the concept of the offense.”

Bryant finished with 12 points for the Zias. Quast went 4-of-6 from long range and had 15 points for the Skyhawks, while junior guard Amie Moulton scored 13.