BOULDER -- Mired in a bit of a midseason slump and harboring reservations about her role as a scorer given a team full of juniors and seniors, Annika Lai needed only for her teammates and coaches to give her the word to spark her game to life.
The message? The Knights needed her to be an offensive threat.
All the 6-foot wing has done since is suggest with her play that she just might be FHS' star of the future. At the very least she's become the second half of a solid 1-2 scoring punch for the Knights along with junior Sarah Kaufman.
And in the first round of the state playoffs on Tuesday, Lai turned in the finest game of her career, scoring 22 points to lead the Knights' 49-31 victory over Littleton.
"It felt great to help our team when it's such a vital point in the season," said Lai, whose mother Amy Mathern Lai played for the Colorado Buffaloes in the early 1990s. "We came out ready to bring our all. Everyone played their part for the team."
The Knights (14-10), seeded sixth in the Sharon Wilch Region, advance to face third-seeded Ralston Valley (21-2) in the second round on Friday. RVHS is the same squad that knocked Fairview out of the tournament a year ago.
While the Knights acknowledged that FHS and Ralston Valley are two different teams this winter, the chance for revenge wasn't lost on them.
"It's kind of funny the way the draw worked out," FHS senior guard Katie Kuosman said. "... I think we're really excited to play Ralston Valley."
Eleventh-seeded Littleton (10-14) found itself outmatched by the Knights on Tuesday. But that didn't keep the defensively-scrappy Lions from making a game of it for much of the first half.
A backdoor layup by Stephanie Puchino pulled LHS to within 18-14 with 3:07 to play before halftime.
But Kaufman answered with a 6-footer, and Lai then reeled off six straight points to finish the half with the Knights on top 26-14. Against the Knights' own tough pressure, Littleton didn't score for a stretch of 9:19 spanning the end of the second quarter and most of the third.
The 22-point effort marked Lai's eighth double-digit outing in a row after having just five over the first 16 games of the season. All but two of her points came before the midway point of the third quarter, by which time the Knights led by 20.
"Especially when she's knocking down jumpshots, that's when she's real effective," FHS coach Andre Goldberg said of Lai. "She's really been working hard on her shot and all areas of her game, and it's coming together."
Indeed, Littleton entered the game believing it could hold Lai at bay by making her shoot outside. But Lai proved she could score from just about everywhere on the floor Tuesday, including a pair of long-range jumpers.
"I didn't expect her to shot the ball outside the way she did," LHS coach Adam Williams said.
Kaufman added 11 points for the Knights, including a 3-pointer to start the game.
Puchino scored 12 points to pace the Lions, who were tied 6-6 with FHS late in the first quarter.
"I thought our girls kind of stepped up after the first couple of minutes," Goldberg said. "(Littleton) did a good job of getting after it and then our girls did a good job fighting back."
Fairview 49, Littleton 31
At Fairview HS
S. Puchino 3 5-5 12, Marshall 0 1-2 1, L. Puchino 1 0-1 3, Lindgren 1 0-0 2, Fee 0 0-0 0, Prolow 0 0-0 0, Zuppa 2 2-4 7, Mangum 2 0-0 4, Winslow 0 0-2 0, Timm 0 2-2 2. Totals 9 10-16 31.
Kuosman 1 0-1 2, Lai 10 2-2 22, Breakell 2 0-0 4, Burger 0 0-0 0, Wolf 0 0-0 0, McCambridge 0 0-0 0, McKee 1 2-2 4, Miller 1 2-2 4, Davenport 0 0-0 0, Ryder 1 2-4 4, Kaufman 5 0-0 11. Totals 21 6-9 49.
Sco r e by quarters:
Littleton 8 6 4 13 -- 31
Fairview 14 12 10 13 -- 49
3-point field goals -- Littleton (3): S. Puchino, L. Puchino, Zuppa; Fairview (1): Kaufman. Total fouls -- Littleton 12, Fairview 17. Fouled out -- None. Technicals -- None.