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Colorado State 68 – Nevada 61 (Women)

March 4, 2015

Players play.

Coaches coach.

And when you combine good players with good coaches, you get good teams that win championships.

And so for the second year in a row, under 3rd year coach Ryun Williams and behind the 2-year backcourt of Gritt ryder and AJ Newton, the Rams are champions of the Mountain West Conference.

I’m not going to spend much time recapping the game. Other than to say it was close, then the Rams broke it open to lead by 10 at the break, other than to see the lead completely disappear against a bigger Nevada team.  The Rams were winning the turnover battle and the 3-point shooting battle, but the Wolf Pack was killing it in the pain and on the offensive glass.

I’d rather spend my time describing the moment of truth in this game.  Let me set the scene.  With 2;30 to go, Nevada had just cut the lead to 4 and called for a 30-second timeout to set their defense.  CSU Coach Ryun Williams drew up a play for the ages.

Gritt Ryder calmly brought the ball up the court.  Center Alana Arias flashed to the wing for a pass.  The ball went back to Ryder as wing Hanne Mestdagh set a back screen in the paint to free up Arias in the post.  The ball went to Arias and now Ellen Nystrom was etting a screen at the free three line to free up Mestdagh for a three.  Earlier in the half, the Rams had run a similar play to set up Jamie Patrick for a three, which she had missed.  

Nevada was ready this time.

Except they weren’t.

Because Nystrom slipped the screen, cut hard to the basket, and received a pass from Arias for an uncontested layup to push the Ram lead to 6.

A perfectly drawn up play by a good coach, a perfectly executed play by a bunch of good players.

It was game, set, match as the Rams had the margin and the energy from their great execution to close the game out.

Champions again!

More Thoughts…   The Rams do not match up well with Nevada.  So it wasnt a surprise that the 1st place team was struggling with the 10th place team.  Parries to the rim are met with shot blocking and physical play of 6’8″ Mimi Mungedi.  On the offensive side, Nevada had no trouble getting shots at the rim against the smaller Ram guards.  A switch to a 2-3 zone by the Rams got the Rams into the lead but Nevada made the adjustments at halftime to deal better with that zone.  It turned into a nervy, nail-biting affair as a result.

CSU junior Jamie Patrick has come a long way in her first year with the Ram program since her arrival from a JC in Kansas.  She began as a sharpshooter from the perimeter.  She is a much more complete player on both ends now.  She finished the game with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.  Her best move of the night was a Euro-step layup which she missed.  I grabbed her after the game and she told me shewas so surprised the move worked so well that she missed the shot.  Awesome move, missed shot, good laugh after the game.

If you think officiating at the men’s level can be spotty, you’d get even more laughs at some of the stuff in the womens’ game.  With about 20 seconds left in the game, Nevada missed a shot and Elie Gustavsson garnered the rebound.  Nevada immediately fouled her.  Gustavsson walked to the other end prepared for her free throws. For some reason, the officials weren’t sure who was fouled and had to go to the replay monitor.  Everybody in Moby knew it was Gustavsson.  Except for the three officials who spent minutes looking at the replay. One official pointed to Ellen Nystrom to shoot the free throws and she gave the most quizzical “I wasn’t anywhere near the ball” look and threw up her hands in amazement.  That sent the officials back to the monitor for another good minute before they determined what everyone already knew.  They sent Gustavsson to the line and she calmly sank the free throws.

One final thought…  The starting backcourt of Gritt Ryder and AJ Newton have combined for a 29-6 conference record in their two years at CSU and have led the Rams to a pair of championships.  They can clinch an outright championship with a win at home over Utah State on Friday night.  I’ll be there for their Senior Night.  I hope other Ram fans who may not have womens basketball high on their list will find a way to get to Moby to celebrate the playing careers of two great young ladies!

Colorado State 72 – San Jose State 56

February 26, 2015

It was Senior Night.

The weather outside was abysmal, leaving plenty of empty seats.

JJ Avila, one of the seniors, was dressed in street clothes dealing with back issues.

The visitors were 0-14 in the MWC and had not won a game against a Division 1 opponent all season.

Throw that into the blender and you get what you got.  A mish-mash of good play, some bad play, emotion and love elevated higher than the quality of play on the court.

The Rams, starting senior Marcus Holt in Avila’s place, jumped out to an early lead and the game was pretty much over at the 13:32 mark when Daniel Bejarano drained a three-ball to push the lead to 17.3.

Larry Eustachy used his bench wisely and often in the first half and the Rams extended the lead to 35-12 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the half.  All 10 Rams who had played to that point scored.

From that point on, the game became unwatchable as the Rams slogged their way to the finish. From a fan perspective it was like being in a horrible traffic jam on the way to a family Thanksgiving celebratiuon.  The traffic sucks, there’s not a lot to do other than sit around, but you’re warmed by the fact that eventually the traffic will break, you will get to your destination, and you will have plenty of fun and laughter.

That being said, the Moby torch was passed from a great group of seniors to a junior class that stepped up and showed their love every step of the way.

Joe DeCiman played his finest game as a Ram, scoring 18 and grabbing 9 rebounds while stifling the Spartans’ Rashad Muhammed, a kid who can really fill it up from the perimeter.  DeCiman filled out his line in Bejarano fashion with 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.

Tiel Daniels dominated in the paint. scoring 7 and grabbing 14 rebounds. He also scared the Spartans enough around the hoop in the first half as the opponents did not score a 2-point FG until the final seconds of the half.

And Gian Clavell came off the bench to score 12, nailing a couple of three-balls along the way and playing stout defense.

Daniel Bejarano started hot but cooled off, finishing the game with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.  A late TO resulted in Coach Larry Eustachy setting up a play for Daniel to shoot a three-ball from the corner as his final shot in Moby.  He missed. It didnt matter to the fans who were waiting to shower him with their love post-game.

With under a minute to go, both Bejarano and Stanton Kidd (who scored 14) were subbed for and the fans achknowledged them with a nice standing ovation.  The final buzzer sounded, the traffic jam ended, and Thanksgiving could begin.

More Thoughts…   The post-game ceremony was nice.  Of course the biggest cheers were reserved for Daniel Bejarano who has left a lot of blood, sweat, toil, and tears on the Moby floor over his years in Fort Collins.  But the roars were also loud for Marcus Holt, Stanton Kidd, and JJ Avila.  As always, the ceremony was tastefully done by the Ram AD.  

JJ Avila assured me that he will be back for the Nevada game. I’m sure it was difficult for him to sit out the game as he is the ultimate competitor  but he is mature enough to know that there are bigger fish to fry.  Two huge road games that will have a great impact on the post-season opportunities for the Rams.

One Final Thought… I know I’ve poked a lot of fun at San Jose State over the course of the season. They really are not very good.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that they are horribly coached or that they play lousy.  They showed the opposite in Moby.  They tried to execute their stuff for the entire 40 minutes on both ends of the floor.  They ran some nice sets, some great in-bounds plays, and could have easily quit but didnt. It also would have been easy to get frustrated and do some stupid things on the court but they didnt.  They were completely professional in the way they played and the way they went about their business. That is a testament to their coach Dave Wojcik and to their players.  I was able to shake Muhammed’s hand after the game and tell him he played a good game. I would have done the same with all of them if I could. 

Colorado State 66 – Air Force 53

February 22, 2015

The stage was set.

An in-state conference rival coming in rested off a bye with a week to prepare. The home team playing some of their best basketball of late, coming off a big road win and playing in front of their faithful. A skirmish in their previous meeting this season.

Colorado State had won the last 7 games against Air Force. But many of these wins had been high-scoring, close affairs. The Rams had a 20-point first-half lead in their last meeting but gave up 59 points in the 2nd half before holding on.

So when the Rams started hot from beyond the arc today to jump into an early lead, history said it might not matter.

But the Rams changed some recent history today. They did it by altering the way they defended Air Force’s intricate Princeton-style offense. They played 2-3 zone last game and got torched. They played some straight up man-to-man but always seemed to have trouble holding the Falcons.

And what did they do differently.

They went to a switching man-to-man D which took away the perimeter looks and forced the Falcons to put the ball on the floor and drive. Its not easy to do. It requires a lot of communication between players and a lot of work in practice to really make it work..

And oh how effective they were. Forced turnovers, contested shots, blocked shots. The Falcons were never able to find a rhythm after an early timeout by Larry Eustachy got the Rams focused on taking away the backdoor cuts.

On offense, Daniel Bejarano was hot early and JJ Avila kicked in about midway through the half, scoring inside and out. The Rams led at the half 39-26 as Avila led with 16 and Bejarano had 12.

The Falcons opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run but the Rams countered an 8-0 run and the lead never went below 9 the rest of the way. JJ Avila was forced to the bench with back spasms jut inside 10 minutes and the junior class took over down the stretch.

Tiel Daniels made 3-4 free throws, Gian Clavell scored at the rim multiple times and Joe DeCiman put the cherry on the top with a last minute dunk.

The offense wasn’t pretty in the second half but the defense was steady and firm as the Rams killed off the game in a professional manner.

They had held the Falcons to 53 points over 40 minutes after giving up 59 in 20 minutes last time out.

When the final buzzer sounded, they had moved their record to 23-5, 10-5 in the MWC.

But more importantly, they had taken another step forward. They call themselves Team Together. They played that way defensively and got the lift they needed from the juniors to close out the game. The staff had prepared them well and had pulled the right strings throughout the game.

On a snowy day in Fort Collins, the Rams had treated their fans to an enjoyable game. And Team Together grew larger.

More thoughts… Daniel Bejarano stood tall for the second game in a row as he went for 20 and 7. At games’ end he was absolutely exhausted, having given his all. He was ecstatic that his teammates had come through down the stretch so that he could put his effort into the defensive end of the floor.

Joe DeCiman played one of his most complete games ever as he scored from the perimeter, off the bounce, and at the rim. Defensively, he was in the face of any Falcon he was near and finished the game with 3 blocks. He had a nice article written about him in the Denver Post this morning and I told him after the game that they should keep writing articles about him if he’s going to play like that.

One final thought… Given the poor weather, Moby was really hopping this afternoon. And the students were at their best as they booed every touch of the ball by Air Force’s Matt Mooney. Mooney is the Falcon who punched JJ Avila in the back in the earlier meeting at Clune Arena. The students were merciless. Mooney ended the game with 1 point and was clearly bothered.

Colorado State 70 – Fresno State 56 (Women)

February 19, 2015

The Lady Bulldogs came strolling into Moby as two time defending MWC Tournament champions and tied with the Lady Rams in the loss column for 1st place this season. They had won their previous meeting in Fresno with the Rams as they overcame an 11-point first half deficit with their full-court pressure defense to record a 53-49 victory.

Given that Fresno was the only team left on the Rams schedule currently in the top half of the standings, this game was always going to be huge.

Both teams began the game playing in the face man-to-man D and only the Rams had any success as they jumped to a 4-0 lead. Fresno was fighting hard to stay in the game but struggling to find anything on the offensive end as the Rams intelligently guarded the shooters and clogged the lane simultaneously.

An early pull-up jumper from the Rams’ Ellen Nystrom was a sign of things to come. Nystrom has struggled all season with her shooting accuracy but not on this night in the season’s buggest game. She repeatedly parried into the lane and continued to make shots. Next thing you knew the Rams were up 19-11 and they had Fresno on the ropes.

The Lady Bulldogs tried to rally in the first half but CSU wing Hanne Mestdagh kept them in check with a trio of three-balls, one of which was banked from the left wing and the other which was banked at the buzzer to propel the Rams to a 39-23 lead.

An early Nystrom and-1 pushed the lead to 42-23 but then the Fresno pressure started to take its toll. Not via turnovers but by speeding the Rams into taking quick shots which they began to miss. A 12-0 run by the Lady Bulldogs got the lead back to 7 and it was a game again.

An Elie Gustavsson layup out of a timeout, then another layup and a pair of free throws pushed the lead back to 11 and the Rams never looked back as they countered every Bulldog press that was thrown at them. Nystrom and Gustavsson both finished strongly and the Rams made all but 1 free throw down the stretch to win the game going away. The fabulous Swedes combined for 39 points and Mestdagh finished with 12.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Lady Rams had found their way finally to the top of the MWC standings (tied with New Mexico) and sent the Lady Bulldogs to their 4th consecutive loss.

The Rams had guarded effectively, handled everything thrown at them defensively and somehow Ellen Nystrom had played like the player that everyone has been waiting for – which is the best player in the conference.

More thoughts… I always try to track down AJ Newton and Gritt Ryder after every game. They are the senior leaders of this team and the most influential duo at CSU since the days of Becky Hammon and Katie Cronin. Their combined MWC record since they’ve been in Fort Collins is a remarkable 26-6. They are now on track to deliver their 2nd consecutive MWC regular season championship and will do so with a strong finish.

Ryder was all scratched up on the arms and the neck. The Lady Bulldogs play more like cats than dogs, clawing and scratching their way on the court. Its a style that can cause teams fits but not on this night in Fort Collins.

Fresno State began fouling and pretty much fouled all the way to the final buzzer. Their coach called a timeout down 12 points with 11 seconds to go and had her team foul. Some coaches think thats coaching until the very end. I find it petulant and childish. Nothing good can happen in the final 11 seconds. There had already been an incident between the Rams’ Keyorra Wharry and a Fresno guard that resulted in double technicals and it was time to move on.

One final thought… With so many foreigners on the CSU side, I look forward to learning more about the players and their cultures. So i decided to ask Hanne Mestdagh what the Belgian word for bank shot was. She informed that its “bank shot”. So now I speak a little Belgian.

Colorado State 65 – San Diego State 42 (Women)

February 15, 2015

Coming off their worst game of the season, a blowout at New Mexico, the Lady Rams returned to Moby to begin the stretch run toward a repeat MWC Championship.

The foe – a lower half team in San Diego State who are very young and very physical. On paper it looked like the Rams should take care of business but paper never got a rebound in traffic, defended the paint, or made a shot.

In a must win game, the Lady Rams defended their butts off for 40 minutes and put together enough offense to win going away over the Aztecs.

Both teams opened in zone defenses and both teams struggled to score with any consistency. And then boom … CSU’s Hanne Mestdagh came off the bench and she and Jamie Parrick each made a pair of three’s as the Rams blew the game open to a double digit lead. A Ram lull after an Aztec switch to man-to-man defense and some solid shooting by a normally weak shooting Aztec squad got it back to 6 but Patrick her 5th three of the half at the buzzer to push the lead to 9 at 38-29.

Same thing happened in the second half as the Rams pushed the lead well into double digits early against the Aztecs’ man-to-man D. Subs were made and on came Victoria Wells and Keyora Wharry off the bench, two players who are very good at attacking the paint. A pair of and-1’s, the first by AJ Newton on a great feed from Wells and then Wells herself on a tough drive from the left baseline pushed the lead back to 15 and the Rams were pretty much home free.

They closed the game out by getting stops and rebounds on the defensive end and then scoring enough to push the lead.

The win moved the Lady Rams to 10-3 and a tie for 1st with New Mexico. Previous leader Fresno State lost at Boise State to fall 1/2game behind in third place.

Next up – Fresno State at Moby on Wednesday night in a game that will go a long way toward deciding who will win the regular season MWC title.

More thoughts… Elie Gustavsson played the majority of the minutes today defending the paint in the middle of the 2-3 zone. She was at a disadvantage weight-wise but fought her way into great positions to prevent the Lady Aztecs from doing any damage there. More than once she defended for well over 5 seconds as the officiating crew struggled to count all the way to three. The zone was active on the perimeter and wings but no one stood taller than Gustavsson tonight.

The lineup that broke the game open feature three bench players in Wells, Wharry, and Mestdagh alongside starting guard AJ Newton and either Gustavsson or Alana Arias. The Lady Ram depth was on display but it was an understanding of match-ups by Coach Ryun Williams and his staff that helped facilitate the second half run that put the game away.

In the last two years Williams’ squad is now 25-5 in MWC games. Its not an accident. The Rams can throw a bunch of different looks offensively and are equally adept at playing man or zone defensively. The timing and use of all the tools available during the game itself wasmanaged beautifully by Williams today.

After the game I told him so. And then I apologized to him for losing my touch at getting the officials to make 3-second calls. It was so bad that the only three-second violation was called on CSU’s Arias the one time she parked in the lane. For some reason there were no whistles at the other end.

One last thought… These women are a great bunch. They are not as consistent offensively as they were last year but they can bring more defensive pressure over the 40 minutes this season. A second consecutive MWC regular season championship is in the cards but Fresno State looms. I hope Ram fans can come out and support them at Moby on Wednesday. A win over the Lady Bulldogs will put the Rams into the drivers seat and their final four games will come against primarily bottom half teams. Another 15-3 record is certainly within the realm of reason.

Where’s the love for Daniel Bejarano?

February 11, 2015

Check out the CSU message boards during a win.

Plenty of negative energy toward Daniel Bejarano, the hard-nosed and hard-playing guard who came to CSU via the University of Arizona.

Bejarano had been a 4-star Top 100 recruit who led his Phoeniz, AZ high school to multiple state championships. He originally committed to Texas but changed his plans because of a family tragedy and chose the WIldcats over ASU.

For whatever reason, things did not work out for Daniel in Tucson and he decided to transfer. He chose CSU over schools like Montana and Nevada. I’ll never forget how excited then Head Coach Tim Miles was when he learned that Bejarano would be joining his program alongside Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson.

Daniel sat out his first year at CSU per NCAA requirements just like Iverson but they were two important cogs as the team made a run at an NCAA at-large bid. Both he and Iverson practiced hard and made their teammates better. Miles was excited because Bejarano could catch and shoot coming off screens like no one else on his squad.

On the Selection Sunday that season, CSU was awarded an at-large bid, the team’s first in over 20 years. The players were ecstatic. Ironically, Arizona was not awarded a bid and while Daniel wasn’t pumping his chest, he did feel pride that he was part of a team that had qualified. A 20-win season.

Roll to the following season and Bejarano assumed the role of 6th man on a CSU squad that won a school record 26 games. Bejarano embraced his role so well that he was awarded the MWC 6th Man of the Year. He became a crowd favorite with his effort and hustle over the entire length of the floor. In the season-ending loss, Daniel had 10 points and 8 rebounds against eventual national champ Louisville.

His role went from 6th man to leader on a rebuilding squad for the 2013-14 season and once again he embraced the new role. AN early season cartilege injury slowed him down but it didnt keep him from playing his hard-nosed style on both ends of the floor. He averaged about 15 and 8 and was while the team finished a disappointing 16-16, Daniel’s efforts were rewarded when he was named to the All-MWC 2nd team.

And now we’re here in the 2014-15 season. Daniel’s role has been modified somewhat as he has been directing the offense from a position that is probably not his strongest. That doesn’t matter as he still leads with effort every night. He stills gets tough rebounds in traffic, goes to the basket hard, and defends with effort all over the floor. And the Rams are off to their best season in school history at 21-4 and still in the hunt for a conference championship and NCAA Tournament bid.

In last night’s game against New Mexico, Daniel scored his 1000th point joining 20 something others. But he also became only the 3rd Ram in history to record 1000 points, 600 rebounds, and 200 assists. A true testament to all the things he does on the court to help his team win.

There is the occasional bad shot that he’ll take over the course of the game. A shot that comes out of the flow of the offense or too quick in the possession. For some reason people focus on that and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Which is that Daniel Bejarano is first and foremost a winner!

In his 4 years at Colorado State, the Rams have won 83 games. That is the most wins over a consecutive 4-year period in school history. And the season is not over. That total will approach 90 when all is said and done.

The Rams have also received 2 NCAA Tournament bids in Daniel’s 4 years and are on track for a 3rd. If they are awarded an at-large in a few weeks on Selection Sunday, Bejarano will be the first Ram ever to be associated with three NCAA Tournaments!

Daniel Bejarano is not a kid who looks for individual attention. He’s just a basketball player who loves the game and his passion shows every time he takes the court. Some nights may be better than others but one thing remains constant every time he takes the floor.

His team wins!

Colorado State 70 – New Mexico 59

February 11, 2015

There’s not a big storyline to this one.

The Colorado State Rams played their best half of the season at Moby as they ran out to a 35-19 lead and cruised to victory in the second half. They scored the game’s first 4 points, pushed the lead to 11-2 and New Mexico never got closer than 5 points the rest of the game.

It was apparent from the opening tip that the Rams were dialed in defensively as the first attack to the rim by Lobos leading scorer Deshawn Delaney was rejected by Joe DeCiman. The Rams fought hard to get around screens (not an easy task when they arent very stationary), guarded the paint, and stripped the ball repeatedly whenever the Lobos tried to get to the rim. They forced 12 turnovers alone in the first half, many of which led to easy points.

Offensively they came out of the gate hot, making their first 3 shots from beyond the arc. As the shooting cooled off, they attacked the rim. It didnt matter whether New Mexico played man or zone. The Rams were getting good looks and getting to the line.

The second half began much the same way as the Rams ran out to a 23-point lead. A late trapping defense by New Mexico got the lead down to 8 but the game was never in doubt.

With the win the Rams moved their record to 21-4, 8-4.

More thoughts… The entire team from coaching staff on down was on their game in the first half. CSU was well-prepared for New Mexico from the get-go. The substitutions came early and often and had the Lobos chasing the game with only 10 minutes gone.

Daniel Bejarano scored his 1000th point in a Ram uniform. It came on a baseline jumper about midway through the first half. He became only the 3rd Ram to score 1000, grab 600 rebounds, and deliver 200 assists. Its no surprise that his line for this game was 12, 8 and 4.

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