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It was just what the Aggie women’s basketball team needed.

Utah State hosted NAIA Fort Lewis College Monday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in an exhibition game for both teams. The Aggies played better as the game progressed and cruised to a 90-43 victory.

But there is plenty left to work on, according to Aggie head coach Kayla Ard. It was nice for the team to play an opponent in front of fans. There was a boisterous student section that got a big thumbs up from the second-year head coach.

“Overall, I’m happy,” Ard said. “Any time we score 90 points, I’m going to be pretty happy. I like to score a lot of points. … I loved having the student section here. They were awesome tonight. I hope we can keep building on that. Big shout out to them.”

Senior transfer Laci Hawthrone made her presence felt right from the get go. She went on to record a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while also dishing out five assists.

“I didn’t even know I had that (a double-double),” Hawthorne said. “I just play. I don’t think about anything but playing. That’s cool that I had a double-double.”

The coach was not one bit surprised about how the transfer from Murray State played.

“She (Hawthorne) is really mature,” Ard said. “We are really, really lucky to have her, happy to have her. She is a great rebounder, great scorer in the point and pretty poised. She doesn’t get rattled. I expect that from her. She had a great game.”

Hawthorne was joined in double-figure scoring by four teammates in Kaylin Randhawa (15), Adryana Quezada (13), Kinley Falslev (12) and Meagan Mendazona (11). Falslev and Mendazona came off the bench. Mana Mensah matched Hawthrone with five assists.

“I thought we had some players come off the bench and play really well,” Ard said. “I was really happy to see that. We have some players out. We had 10 players play tonight.”

Sydney Candelaria led the Skyhawks with a game-best 18 points, the only Fort Lewis player to reach double digits. Kelsey Sorenson grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds before fouling out.

The Aggies scored first to start the game as it took just 15 seconds for Hawthrone to drive to the hoop and score. Then it became a back-and-forth affair for the next four minutes as there were six lead changes.

Quezada came up with a steal and drove in for a layup to spark a 8-0 run for the hosts. Randhawa drilled a 3-pointer off a pass from Mensah, and then Mensah hit a trey of her own to give USU a 17-10 lead with 4:12 left in the opening half.

It would get much worse for the Skyhawks in the second quarter. The Aggies took a 23-15 lead after the first quarter.

Fort Lewis scored the first points of the second, but then went nearly six minutes without a point. USU took control.

Quezada scored inside to begin a 18-point run by the Aggies. Five different USU players scored during the stretch. Falslev capped the run with her second 3-pointer of the quarter, giving USU a 41-17 lead with 3:11 before halftime.

“Our defense creates our offense,” Ard said. “When our players buy into that, we are really good offensively. I’m pleased with our defense for sure.”

The Aggies took a 43-22 lead into the break.

“We had some first-game jitters,” Hawthorne said. “We did pick it up as the game went on. We kept the energy high and kept encouraging each other.”

Candelaria tried to keep the Skyhawks in the game in the third as she scored all 13 points that Fort Lewis put up. However, the Aggies kept pulling away.

E’Lease Stafford scored four straight points, and Hawthrone had a layup during a 6-0 run. USU took a 64-35 lead into the final quarter.

“I didn’t think we played very well in the first half,” Ard said. “We played a lot better in the second half. At halftime I asked the players if they thought we were playing good and their answer was no. I was pleased with that, and they came out the second half completely different.”

And it didn’t take long for the “Up by 30” chant to break out. Olivia Wikstrom made a free throw to give the hosts a 30-point advantage with 9:32 left in the contest.

The Aggies finished off the game with a 17-0 run in the fourth. Falslev sparked it with a trey, and Mendazona capped it with a layup to give the hosts an 82-38 lead with 3:22 to play. Mendazona had nine points during the run.

“I love it here,” Hawthorne said. “This is my favorite team I’ve ever been a part of. I love my teammates. They are amazing, and my coaches believe in me. I just love it here and so glad I came here.”

Now the Aggies have a week before their season opener. USU will host Westminster College on Nov. 9, as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team.

“We are going to work on us,” Ard said. “We need to play Utah State basketball all of the time. … I’m excited to play a doubleheader and hopefully we draw a big crowd.”

SEASON CAPTAINS

Earlier Monday, USU head coach Kayla Ard named her captains for the upcoming season. There will be three for the 2021-22 campaign in seniors Emmie Harris and Laci Hawthrone and sophomore Kinley Harris.

This is the third season Harris will be a captain.

“Emmie was one of our captains last year, so she knows exactly what our coaching staff expects,” Ard said. “She knows how to speak to her teammates in a way that they will listen. She is also one of the hardest workers on the team and a great extension of our coaching staff on the court. I love having Emmie as one of our captains.”

Hawthorne came to USU through the transfer portal after playing the 2020-21 season at Murray State.

“Laci’s maturity and experience has been great for our team,” Ard said. “She is a coachable young lady who wants to make sure that her final year is her best year and the best season her team has ever had. She is the same every day and her teammates respect her. We are so glad to have Laci as one of our captains.”

For Falslev, being named an Aggie captain was once a dream. She is a graduate of nearby Green Canyon High School.

“Being a captain gives me confidence that my teammates and my coach trust me to lead them,” Falslev said. “It’s just extra cool to me, also, because Utah State was my dream school and now I have the opportunity to help lead them.”

“Kinley is probably the youngest captain I have ever coached,” Ard said. “She has some great leadership qualities and isn’t afraid to lead or hold her teammates accountable. She has everyone’s respect because she is such a hard worker. We are excited to watch her develop as a young captain on our squad.”

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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