On a Senior Night against arch-rival Wyoming, even when their most reliable perimeter shooters couldn’t put the ball into the ocean, the Lady Rams found a way to produce a famous Border War victory.
Tenacious and stifling man-to-man defense.
Stifling enough to hold the Cowgirls to 35% shooting from the field including only 1-10 from beyond the arc.
Stifling enough to force 19 turnovers with 9 steals and 8 blocked shots, leading to easy run outs that produced 20 points.
And stifling enough to completely shut down Cowgirl Kayla Woodward, the league’s 3rd leading scorer, and Pre-Season Conference Player of the Year. Woodward finished the game with a goose-egg on 0-7 shooting from the field.
But the game was very much in doubt until the final minutes.
Both teams opened slowly as they struggled to gain any traction on the offensive end. WYO point guard Marquelle Dent and CSU forward Ellen Nystrom were carrying the load for their teams with little else. The Cowgirls’ Kaylie Rader came off the bench to give her team a lift, scoring 8 points on a variety of post moves.
The Lady Rams led 18-16 with about 8 minutes left in the first half and then went on an 8-0 run, driven by turnovers and fueled by layups from Gritt Ryder, Elin Gustavsson, and Nystrom.
But the 10-point lead was short-lived as WYO clawed back into the game by scoring the final 7 points of the half and it was 28-25 Rams at the break.
The second half started much like the first with both teams looking a bit jumpy. The Rams had been out rebounded badly in the first half and it was obvious they were going to go hard in the paint after the half but they still struggled.
And when the Cowgirls went on a 6-0 run, they took a brief lead at 33-32. The teams traded baskets and then it was time for CSU’s most influential senior to step up.
Sam Martin ran off 7 straight as she showed the scoring versatility that has made her an all conference performer and one of the best in recent memory. She scored a layup off of a beautiful dish by Nystrom and followed it with a mid-range jumper from the left baseline. And then she finished it off with a Three-ball from the right corner.
The Rams led at 39-35 and the Cowgirls would not get any closer. But it was still a game at 50-45 at the under 4 media TO.
And I remember thinking that the toughest team over the last 4 minutes would walk away with a victory.
First a layup off a beautiful drive by Gustavsson. Then a steal by Nystrom, her 4th of the game, to create her third breakaway layup opportunity. Then a steal by Ryder, who put the game away with a driving physical layup after killing much of the shot clock.
The Lady Rams were home free and all that was left was for coach Ryun Williams to get his three seniors – Martin, Alicia Nichols, and Hayley Thompson – on the Moby floor one last time so they could be acknowledged by their fans. One by one they came off the floor to rousing ovations.
And it was a beautiful moment when Sam Martin broke down in tears as she walked off the Moby floor. She had come to CSU as an acclaimed prep star in Colorado and been through some very tough seasons. She left as a champion on her Senior Night.
The Swedish Goddess of Thunder brought the hammer last night and played her finest game in a Ram shirt. Ellen Nystrom scored 20 points, had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 1 blocked shot. But it was her defense that stood out.
She had the initial guard on Kayla Woodward and shut her down. But when AJ Newton went to the bench with early fouls, Nystrom was switched to Dent. She shut Dent down.
And don’t underestimate what Caitlin Duffy did off the bench on the defensive end. She normally brings instant offense to the floor but tonight it was her defense that stood out. She had the guard on Woodward when Nystrom had Dent.
I went up to her after the game and complimented her on her defense. She was very grateful for the kind words and said that she figured she better play great defense since she couldn’t make anything.
I asked her to get Ellen Nystrom to come over for a picture of the two together and she obliged.
There were quite a few other CSU athletes at the game cheering on the Lady Rams. Most memorable was the great turnout by the men’s team who were there to give their vocal support. My wife decided to sit with them instead of me.
One final thought…
The post-game Senior Celebration combined with the presentation on the MWC Championship trophy was a beautiful moment. I could get used to that.
One last word…
San Jose State made their first two shots of the game, both from beyond the arc, and the Spartans jumped to a 6-2 lead.
After that it was all Rams as the Big Three of JJ Avila, Daniel Bejarano, and Jon Octeus had their way with the visiting Spartans on a night when they were going to make sure that seniors Gerson Santo and Josh Morgan were winners on their final night in Moby.
Avila was flirting with a double-double at halftime and finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists. Bejarano ended with 19 and 9. And Octeus played as good a game as he has played in a Ram uniform as he finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots along with 0 turnovers.
Hot shooting by the Spartans from the perimeter (12-25) made the final score much closer than the game played out as the Rams ran their motion offense crisply and efficiently. Sure San Jose State isn’t very good. But this was a Ram team coming off a bye and they played with fresh legs and clear minds and had their way.
And they combined it with their trademark hustle. Jon Octeus chased down a breakaway layup and forced a miss. And with 2 minutes to go in the game and the Rams up by about 16, Daniel Bejarano sprinted the length of the floor to prevent another Spartan breakaway layup.
Those are the plays they have been making all season and when they throw in shooting near 50%, they always wins by lots.
The win moved the Rams season record to 16-14, setting up a great regular season finale in Laramie against the struggling Cowboys.
One final thought…
Tonight was the last time I’ll see this years Rams in person. My wife and I had spent the last two days in Breckenridge but we wanted to make it for Senior Night. Not just because of Gerson Santo and Josh Morgan but because we really appreciate the effort this team gives night in and night out. They honor us fans with their no nonsense approach to the game and it’s the least we can do to pay them back with our support.
I’m hoping the basketball gods give them their just due in Laramie on Saturday and in Las Vegas next week.
Thank god I’m not on deadline. Cuz I just wrote up my game report and accidentally hit the discard button. And since I write from the heart and from memory, the second version is never as good as the first.
So much to cover and where to,start?
Easy. One word.
The Colorado State Lady Rams wrapped up their first Mountai. west regular season championship in umpteen years with a resounding victory over the Scarlett O’Hara’s of Las Vegas.
But don’t let the final score fool you. It wasn’t a laugher as the Lady Rebels led for most of the first half on their way to a 37-32 lead at the break. They were shooting well from both,inside and out. And the Lady Rams were a little too reliant on the perimeter game and struggling to corral rebounds on either end.
The second half began much the same way as the first half had gone. CSU’s Gritt Ryder was stripped of the ball on the Rams first possession and the Rebels scored an east breakaway layup.
In less than 4 minutes, the Rebels had pushed their halftime lead to 9 at 47-38.
They say basketball is a game of runs. Go on a couple of runs yourself and limit your opponent’s runs and the game will most likely go in your favor.
Easier said than done.
A run requires great defense, great rebounding, grabbing loose balls. It also requires sound ball handling and great shooting.
What hit the Lady Rebels over the next 11 minutes wasn’t a run.
It was a tsunami!
It started and ended with field goals by senior center Sam Martin. In between was some rock solid defense, especially by Ellen Nystrom on UNLV’s Mia Bell, who had been controlling the game. And some incredible perimeter shooting by AJ Newton,who nailed three straight three balls in less than two minutes.
From the 16 minute mark to the 5 minute mark, the Lady Rams had out scored UNLV 30-4 and pushed their lead to 68-51.
All that was left was to finish the game out and remove the major players for ovations from the Moby faithful and hugs from Head Coach Ryun Williams. The biggest hugs were reserved for the two seniors, Sam Martin and Hayley Thompson. Martin and Thompson had come full circle in their careers at CSU. They had gone from the bottom of the league to the top. And they leave with one word in mind.
All that was left was to wait out the result of the Fresno State – Boise State game. When Fresno won in OT, the Rams had an outright championship and it was on to cutting down nets.
Team Chemistry – Successful basketball teams have talent and chemistry that allows them to play as one. It is unusual for a team with so many newcomers to have such instant success. Ryun Williams and his staff have done an incredible job bringing these players together. These women look like they’ve been playing together all of their lives.
The Swedish Goddess of Thunder – Ellen Nystrom is one of the best players to ever take the floor at Moby. She is tall, runs like a deer, defends tenaciously and is a great rebounder. She also possesses one of the prettiest jump shots I’ve seen in the women’s game. She brings the hammer every game.
Ryun Williams – Who could possibly have anticipated that he would lead a team to a conference championship in less than two years at the helm. He and his staff have done a great job of recruiting players, he has the team prepared to play night in and night out, and he’s a very good in game coach as well. An easy choice as MWC coach of the Year this season. And the recipient of a victory cigar, a la Red Auerbach.
Even better, he received the following message from a former CSU coach last night:
CONGRATS! he’s a stud. Helluva coach especially being from WYO.
The Rams were riding a 3-game bender, including a pair of bad home losses to Utah State and Boise State. The Pokes had been playing well, moving into 3rd in the MWC standings, but were without their best player in Larry Nance Jr.
So who knew what to expect as the two teams renewed their bitter Border War Rivalry.
But it turned out to be a continuation of the recent history between the two squads as the Orange-clad Rams pounded the Cowboys on the way to their 3rd straight double-digit win and 8th win in their last nine over the hated rivals from North Tie Siding.
Pounded the Cowboys on the glass to the tune of a 37-21 advantage.
Pounded the Cowboys on the offensive end to the tune of 50%+ shooting resulting in a remarkable 1.39 points per possession.
And pounded the Cowboys on their way to winning most of the 50/50 battles all over the floor.
Wyoming had gotten out of the gate quickly, making their first four shots beyond the perimeter and scoring some easy buckets in transition on their way to an 18-11 lead.
But the Rams, with JJ Avila on the bench with a pair of fouls, crept back into the game gradually by running patient offense and finishing at the rim. Dwight Smith and Carlton Hurst had come off the bench to give the Rams solid floor time and Daniel Bejarano was on pace to a double double as the two teams left the floor for the halftime break tied at 31.
But there was a different look to the two teams as they headed to their respective locker rooms.
The Rams looked composed and fresh.
The Cowboys looked fatigued.
I sent out the following tweet at the half.
Wyoming walked off the floor exhausted. CSU needs to ratchet up the defensive pressure in the second half.—
Steve Ivy (@swollcracker) February 22, 2014
And boy did the Rams ratchet it up in the second half as they began with blocks by Bejarano and Joe DeCiman on Josh Adams layup attempts.
A pair off JJ Avila jumpers , a dunk by Gerson Santo off a great feed by Avila, and a 3-ball by Jon Octeus pushed the lead to 7.
Wyoming tried to fight back but a pair of three-balls by DeCiman pushed the lead to double digits. And then a three-ball by Bejarano was followed by a 3/4 court pass to a streaking Carlton Hurst for a dunk that pushed the lead to 18 and the rout was on.
Wyoming didn’t quit but with the game in hand, eyes turned to the stats board as the Rams Daniel Bejarano had continued what he had started in the first half.
He was already in double figures in points and rebounds and when Jon Octeus finished at the rim to give Bejarano his 9th assist, there was potential history in the making.
A final foray into the offensive end led to a Bejarano pass to A wide open Hurst in the corner. Hurst hesitated, looking for another player to pass t. But with the shot clock running down, he attempted to put Bejaranos name into the history books as the first Ram ever to score a triple-double but his shot fell harmlessly off the rim.
The Rams for one night had brought their magic back to Moby, scoring a famous Border War victory that sent the faithful home happy.
Daniel Bejarano’s Line
The junior guard from Phoenix ended the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists. He also,had a pair of steals and 1 blocked shot. But what the scoresheet didn’t record is that he took 5 stitches in his lower lip after taking an elbow from Wyoming’s Nathan Sobey late in the game.
And what you probably missed is that he was also responsible for returning the cell phone to the lap of a CSU fan after knocking it to the floor while saving a loose ball. He picked himself up, saw the phone and picked it up, and carefully returned it to the exact spot it had been prior to the collision.
Momma obviously trained him to put things back to where they started.
The quietest 23 points you might ever see..
were delivered by the Rams Jon Octeus. He played his usual outstanding floor game but supplemented that with made shots from the perimeter, from the midrange, and at the tin.
But the best part of Jon’s game is his team first attitude. I teased him about not getting the post-game radio interview as player of game and he laughed. He really doesn’t care about that stuff.
Joe DeCiman got to do the radio interview. The Canadian sophomore was 4-4 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points in 21 minutes. But there was only one important question to ask Joe after the game…
” Hey Joe! Who’s gonna win the hockey game tomorrow?”
He smiled ear-to-ear!
By the numbers…
How solid were the Rams on the offensive end?
The 1.39 points per possession were the highest against a D-1 opponent this year. The turnover rate was the lowest this season for any Wyoming opponent.
And the Rams dominated on the defensive glass beyond any other game they had played this season.
I already highlighted some of the individual numbers.
But the Ram player I haven’t mentioned had one of his best games ever and delivered the highest Offensive Rating of any player on the floor.
6 points on 3-4 shooting, 7 rebounds including 3 on the offensive end, 3 assists, 0 turnovers.
Octeus may have been quiet, but Santo was the unsung hero in this one.
Larry Nance Jr.
Obviously the Pokes missed their best player. Leading scorer, rebounder, shot blocker. We won’t know how much his absence affected the outcome of the game.
But when talking to a CSU fan after the game, he said “I can’t believe I had to miss this game. Of all the games, this is the one I really wanted to play. “
Hope he heals well after knee surgery and he can come back as good as new for his senior season. It’s players like him with his skill and competitiveness that make this rivalry special.
One final thought…
Is there a chance that Larry Eustachy actually tried to get Daniel Bejarano his 10th assist with a designed play? Is there a chance that Carlton Hurst was to set a screen for another player who would get the shot to get Daniel his final assist. And is there a chance that Wyoming switched off the screen, leaving Hurst as the open shooter for the final shot?
I think we know the answers.
You done good Larry.
A late season match up between #1 and #2 with the conference title pretty much on the line. Because of unbalanced conference scheduling, it was the only regular season between the two teams, making it a very important game for tie-breaking reasons.
And even better, it was a match-up of two teams having fairy tale conference seasons. The Lady Rams had been picked 7th in the pre-season poll and the Lady Broncos had been picked 8th.
The Rams got off to a jittery start and quickly fell behind 11-2 as they missed numerous shots and turned the ball over. And things didn’t look so great when leading scorer Sam Martin went to the bench with two fouls after only 8 minutes.
On came Emilie Hesseldahl, a freshman center. And the Rams switched from their trademark 2-3 zone defense to their man D. They gained some traction with a pair of Gritt Ryder elbow jumpers, and starting turning Boise over on what seemed almost every possession. A 13-0 run put them into the lead at 17-13 and then another 9-0 run sent them into the locker room leading 26-17.
Boise made an early run to begin the second half, cutting the Rams’ lead to 3. False hopes. Caitlin Duffy and Alicia Nichols both took turns burying big shots and when diminutive guard AJ Newton buried her 3rd three-ball of the half, the Rams were home free.
They had stepped up and delivered a famous road win with the conference title on the time. And they did it their way with balanced scoring and stifling defense, holding Boise nearly 25 points under their home MWC scoring average.
There was no better player on the floor last night than the Rams freshman Ellen Nystrom. The box score shows her with 9 points and 7 rebounds. What the box score doesn’t show you is that she held Boise’s Deanna Weaver to 2 points on 1-7 shooting. Weaver was Boise’s leading scorer coming in and had scored 33 in her last game. Nystrom harassed Weaver into turnovers and forced shots.
Caitlin Duffy, Alicia Nichols, and Emile Hesseldahl came off the bench and combined for 23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, and only 1 turnover.
Duffy is the obvious choice as the MWC 6th Man of the Year, as she comes off the bench to score in double digits. If they gave 7th and 8th man awards, both Nichols and Hesseldahl would be leaders.
The beauty of this team is that they don’t skip a beat when starters are on the bench.
The Rams moved their conference record to 13-1 and hold a 3.5 game lead over Boise and 4.5 game leads over Fresno and Wyoming. With 4 games left it’s still mathematically possible they could be caught but I think I heard the Fat Lady warming up her vocal chords, especially after Fresno beat Wyoming last night.
A win in Laramie on Saturday would clinch the conference title for the Lady Rams. That will be a tall order as the Cowgirls have yet to lose a conference road game and they have been traditionally tough on the Rams.
But how nice would it be for the Rams to wrap up a title in Laramie against their bitter rivals. And for their head coach Ryun Williams who grew up in Gillette. Or for their assistant coach Chad Lavin who formerly coached the Cowgirls.
one final thought…
Said by Boise State Head Coach Gordie Presnell when asked about the Rams switch from their 2-3 zone to man defense after the game:
“I told our team, ‘that’s a sign we’re doing great, they’re getting out of their stuff,’ and then they just killed us with it,” Presnell said.
If I took a lot of time and effort to write up this game, I should probably misspell a bunch of words and make some really bad punctuation errors. Then you could give me an A for effort but it would be stupid effort,if it was unreadable.
That’s what we witnessed tonight in Moby.
What’s up with collapsing off of Boise three-point shooter Jeff Elorriaga to help near the basket, leaving a wide open three. bang!
What’s up with fouling an 85% free throw shooter 60′ from the basket when you’re trying to come back from a double digit deficit?
And when I can see from my seat that an inbounds play is going to be run for a certain player and no one on the floor can see it and they give up an easy and-1, then you know it’s not gonna be your night.
This Rams’ team has finally hit a crossroads. They can choose to play hard, play smart, and do what it takes to win. Or they can choose to keep losing at home and destroy what has been built up over the past few years.
CSU lost 2 games in the past two seasons at home. Tonight’s loss was the 6th of the season at Moby. Tonight’s has to be the last for this season.
Anything less is unacceptable.
And coaches. You need to make sure your players are prepared for what the other team might throw at them for 40 minutes. And be cognizant of when the other coach is exploiting match ups with your players.
David Cohn defending Mikey Thompson when Jeff Elorriagga was on the floor? You have to be effin kidding me!
I could list about five more that happened during the game but who cares?
During the game I tweeted that Carlton Hurst looked like the only one interested in playing tonight. He had 11 points and a pair of dunks.
The formula is there to beat the Rams. Collapse 5 guys into the paint and challenge the Rams to make shots. Boise disrespected the Rams shooters so much that the top of the 2-3 zone they showed was playing at the elbows of the free throw lane. They didn’t feel the need to extend it any farther. The last time I saw something like that it was in junior high school.
I watched the replay online last night. It was another big win for the Lady Rams as they won their 8th in a row and maintained their position at the top of the Mountain West. They hold a 2-game lead over Boise and a 3-game cushion over Fresno, their next opponent.
I won’t bother to give you the gory details.
I’d rather post some conference season stats that will give you insight into how well this team is playing. The numbers are astounding!
Their scoring margin in conference games is +21.3. In the last 4 games that margin has been +37.5 points! And that’s with the bench playing lots of minutes.
They are shooting at a league-leading .464 field goal percentage while holding their opponents to a league low .337.
The individual stats give great insight into what Utah State coach Jerry Finkbeiner said after last night’s game
“… Their offense was just so skilled. All five could shoot and they all look for each other. They have five good passers, five good shooters. I told the girls after the game, ‘We feel good about anybody in the conference but this team. We’ve got to make up a lot of points if we’re going to see them again.’”
The Lady Rams two bigs, Sam Martin and Elin Gustavsson, are 1 and 2 in the conference in field goal percentage. Guards Caitlin Duffy and AJ Newton are 2nd and 3rd in 3-point shooting percentage.
But the most remarkable offensive statistic that best describes the team is in the area of assists and turnovers. The Lady Rams are first in both total assists and assist to turnover ratio.
The Lady Rams have three of the top four in the league in assist to turnover ratio! A ratio of 2:1 is considered very good. Gritt Ryder leads the league at 2.8, AJ Newton is 3rd at 2.3, and Forward/Guard/Stat Sheet Filling Goddess Ellen Nystrom is 4th at 2.2.
No other team has more than one player in the Top 10 in this category. The Rams have three.
The coach of Utah State wasn’t kidding when he said that all five players (in this case six) could all pass and shoot.
Next game up is Fresno State, the only MWC team to hand the Lady Rams a loss so far this season. Saturday afternoon’s game will be a nice measuring stick to see how far the Lady Rams have progressed over the course of the conference schedule.