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Colorado State 76 – Nevada 67

February 7, 2016

On a day when Colorado State celebrated 50 years of events in Moby Arena, the CSU Rams delivered their best 40 minutes of play in Moby this season as they powered their way to a solid victory over the visitors from Reno.

Nevada, under the guidance of first year head coach Eric Musselman, is a much improved program this season.  COming off a bye with a week to prepare for the Rams, they were determined to avenge an embarrassing 98-42 defeat they had suffered in Moby last season.

But it was not to be this afternoon.

It wasn’t a walk in the park as the Rams struggled with an uncharacteristically high turnover rate and poor shooting throughout the first half.  Part of that was the result of physical play by Nevada and part was self-inflicted as the Rams settled too easily from the perimeter and missed on their few attempts at the rim.  They went into the break trailing 33-27.  They were only in the game because of the effectiveness on the glass by Emmanuel Omogbo and their willingness to defend their own paint.

The second half took on a much different tone as Tiel Daniels established himself in the low block and finished at the rim.  Then Antwan Scott found his way to the rim repeatedly and the Rams were making a game of it.  John Gillon came off the bench and provided a spark. And Omogbo continued his relentless effort on the glass.

A three-ball by Scott off a beautiful feed by Gillon gave the Rams their first lead of the second half. They were tied at 62 inside of 4 minutes when Gillon scored high off the glass.  Daniels followed with a pair of free throws. And then Joe De Ciman delivered the killer blow when he stole the ball in the forecourt, drove hard to the other end, and delivered a powerful and soaring flush to give the Rams a 68-62 lead inside of 2 minutes.  Gillon and De Ciman finished the game effectively at the free throw line and the Rams had their win.

While they shot only 34% for the game, the Rams had outrebounded Nevada 53-37 and held the Wolfpack to 38% shooting.  Scott finished with 23, Gillon 20. Daniels had 10 and 9, De Ciman had 11. But there was no bigger number than the 19 that Omogbo delivered on the glass, 8 of which came on the offensive end. It was fitting that he did his work in the air, closest to heaven, on a day when his parents were supposed to be in Moby.  

Colorado State 70 – San Diego State 54 (Women)

February 5, 2016

It may not have been a work of art.  

But sometimes as a fan, those are the games where you get to see the true quality and character of your team as they grind out a solid win over 40 minutes.

The conference season is 18 games long.  You’ll often hear it described as a marathon, not a sprint.  As an ex-distance runner, I think it’s more like the steeplechase.  Hurdles thrown at you throughout and a water jump that requires technique no focus to be negotiated correctly.  If you re not prepared, if you are not focused on the task at hand, you might find yourself sprawled out on the track.

San Diego State is not a winning team.  They are not overly big or strong. They do not shoot the ball well.  But their effort is steady and because of their quickness, they can create turnovers all over the floor.  They had come back from a large deficit against the Rams in the first meeting of the teams and nearly scored a famous victory before falling by 3.  Play sharp and focused and you probably beat them. Play sloppy and you might find yourself on the wrong end of the score.

And the Rams were both in the first half this night.  They were crisp enough to be making shots but sloppy enough to waste possessions throughout the half. They were focused on the defensive end but not finishing off possession with rebounds.  

They had led by 5 after the first quartet and by 11 at the half.  They were over 50% from the field and holding their opponents to near 30% but 9 turnovers had hurt them.  The 11-point lead wasn’t enough to allow you to feel safe given that the Aztecs had overcome a bigger margin in the previous game.

And so the second half started and you could see that the Rams had ratcheted the effort up on the defensive end and were moving the ball a touch more crisply.  Perimeter scoring had been replaced by scoring at the rim both in the half court and in transition.  The Rams immediate extended the lead to 14 but the Aztecs got hot and made a few shots.  The Rams pushed the lead to 16 by the end of the quarter and finished the game with the same margin.  

There victory was very linear. Not a big, crazy run to put the game away. Just a steady pace that picked up as the game progressed.  Their 8-man rotation was solid throughout. They were led in scoring by Jamie Patrick with 14, Alana Arias off the bench with 12, and Keyora Wharry with 10.

They had negotiated all of the hurdles on this evening as they extended their record to 19-1, 9-0 in the MWC.  It was just another lap in a long race and it was a good lap.

More thoughts…

If you read this blog, you’ve heard me rave about Ellen Nystrom and her ability to run the show.  Tonight was no different.  She finished with 9 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, a pair of steals that resulted in breakaway layups.  If I were picking teams, I’d take her first.

Freshman Callie Kaiser come off the bench and filled up the stat sheet much like Nystrom does every night. 7 points,  6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and solid D that doesn’t show in the box score.  She was part of the best play of the night as she took a pass in transition from Nystrom on the right wing and delivered a bullet to a streaking Arias for a layup.

Streaks…

The win over San Diego State was their 16th consecutive win this season.

The win was the23rd consecutive home conference win.  Their last conference home loss was the season ending game against Wyoming in 2013.

The win was their 27th consecutive regular season victory in Moby.  The last regular season loss in Moby was in 2014 vs. Hawaii.

The view from the top of the MWC is awfully nice

San Jose State defeated Fresno State on this night giving the Rams sole possession of first place at 9-0.  They have a pair of road games coming up, the first against an improving Nevada team and then at Boise who are breathing down the Rams’ neck at 8-2.  Two more tough laps.

The CSU Women are 18-1, 8-0. Who woulda thunk?

January 31, 2016

I know one person who thunk it right from the get go.

Not me.

I thought the team would be solid this season because there was enough quality returning from the previous season. A 20-win season and a Top 3 finish in the MWC was in the cards.  But I couldn’t see any more than that. After all, they had lost All-MWC backcourt duo Gritt Ryder and AJ Newton.  Ryder had shared the MWC Player of the Year in 2014-15 as both she and Newton fought through injuries to lead the team.  I figured the loss of their skill and their leadership would set the Rams back a little in the 2015-16 season.

At the start of the season, I chatted some with Gritt Ryder.

I expressed my concerns to her and she told me that this year’s team would be better than the previous two teams.  She explained that the returning players had gotten better and that there was a lot more depth than in previous years with the new players.  Gritt had been given the position of Graduate Assistant and I figured it was just wishful thinking on her part because of her new position.  

And now with half of the MWC season and 2/3 of the entire regular season I can now say how wrong I was.

And the correct answer to “Who woulda thunk it?” Is Gritt Ryder.

And here’s how they’ve done it to date.

The core of the returning team was the two fabulous Swedes and all-conference players, Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson.  Starters since day one, they are now juniors who have played about 80 games together for CSU.  And they both continue to get better.  I joked with somebody about how I wish that Eustachy’s team had three-year players like Ellen and Elie and he fired back “Players like that end up at Gonzaga.”  That’s how good these young ladies are.

Nystrom pretty much does it all on the court. She can score inside and out, she can defend, rebound, handle the ball, pass the ball, dictate tempo.  Her shooting was a little off last season but she has been far more consistent in 2015-16.

Gustavsson has expanded her game to become a much better interior defender and rebounder.  She always had the skills to score inside and out.  She has gotten stronger and is now a very versatile 94′ player.

Keyora Wharry and Jamie Patrick joined the Rams last season from the JuCo ranks and played very important roles on the 2014-15 team.  Wharry with energy and athleticism going to the basket and Patrick as the perimeter sharpshooter.  Bu they were just role players.

And that’s no longer true in 2015-16.

Wharry has maintained the high level of energy but she is much more effective in terms of how it translates in a team game.  She has become a lockdown defender.  And offensively, she plays much more within the confines of the team. A wild drive to the basket in transition last year has become a much more intelligent parry that pulls the ball out when an easy basket isn’t there.  She is crazy good late in the shot clock and her improved free throw shooting has helped her expand her game.

Patrick has expanded her game as well.  She still shoots and makes three’s but does more scoring in the paint these days.  She’s a better rebounder too.   She currently leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio; she’s not a primary ballhandler but she’s a smart and willing passer.   The biggest leap has come on the defensive end where she relishes drawing the toughest assignment on that end of the floor.  She has completely locked down leading scorers such as Brooke Pahukoa of Boise State.

Now add in Emile Hesseldal, the other starting forward.  She injured her elbow last season early on and was never 100% even after she came back.  She is an incredibly gifted player who is all about team.  She brings the ball up court and initiates the offense lots. She can shoot but chooses to see screens, pass, rebound and defend.  No one was shocked that she made the winning jumper against San Jose State earlier this week.  

That’s five players who start.

But the real strength of the team is that the team doesn’t skip a beat when people come off of the bench.  Ellen Nystrom described after the Wyoming game that there are times that the Rams actually get better because the bench players ratchet up the energy level on the floor.

Alana Arias is the Rams’ best post player.  She has a variety of moves both left and right and possesses a deft touch.  She also got better around the basket on both ends of the floor.  She is a much stronger and better rebounder than last year and a better defender as well.  Arias comes off the bench but she is good enough to have won the MWC Player of the Week a couple of weeks ago from off the bench.

Hannah Tvrdy is a transfer guard from the University of Nebraska where she played one season.  It took her a good number of games to shake off the rust after playing limited inured in her freshman season in Lincoln and sitting out last season because of transfer rules.  She plays great on-the-ball defense, shoots well from the perimeter, and is expanding her offensive game to include scoring in the paint.

Callie Kaiser is one of four freshmen in a solid 2015 recruiting class.  She is a hard-nosed, athletic wing player who can tough it up with anyone.  She might make a freshman mistake here or there but she knows how to get tough rebounds, anticipates well defensively to create steals, and scores well at the basket.  She offers a lot of what Pierce Hornung offered the men while on the court at CSU.  Unmeasurables that result in winning plays.

Veronica Mirkovic is a defensive specialist who can guard several positions, get tough rebounds and deliver physical play that helps wear opponents down.  A valuable bench player in a grind it out game.

That was the nine who played most yesterday.

But it’s not always the same nine.

Freshmen Sofie Tryggedsson and Amanda Kantzy have made important contributions off the bench. Sofie can really shoot and Amanda is a young big who is probably a little more comfortable on the perimter but is learning how to mix it up inside.  Stine Austgulen is another perimeter sharpshooter who’s come off the bench to deliver double figures and also play solid defense.

Now we’re up to 12.  That’s way more than a team needs to be successful in any given season but bodes well for the program to continue to grow.

And while the depth is certainly there, it takes a great set of coaches to continue to develop the players and to use them properly in game situations.   

I remember speaking earlier in the season to Coach Ryun Williams about the talent-laden freshmen and he was agonizing over red-shirting them.  He knew he had players who could help this year but he wanted to make sure that he didn’t waste a season of eligibility for a minute here or there.  

It takes a special coach and staff to balance out this many players.  And it takes a special group of players to sacrifice some of their individual desires for the good of the team.  Williams loves having this many good players in his tool box.  And he is highly appreciate that they all continue to work hard to improve and come ready to play every game when their name is called.

So…

After yesterday’s game against Wyoming, I grabbed Gritt Ryder again and told her I thought she got it right when she said this team would be better than the last two.  Then she jokingly said that she hoped that they didn’t do so well that people would forget about what she and AJ had accomplished in their two years at CSU.  I told her there was no chance of that.  She and AJ had provided the path and these girls on the current squad were running down it on their way to something even bigger and better.

The CSU Women are now 38-6 in MWC games over the last two plus seasons.   I know it’s hard to believe they can improve on that.  But they are and they can.

Jack Graham Made a Huge Mistake When He Hired Larry Eustachy

January 31, 2016

Look, I’m not here to bury Jack Graham.

Jack Graham was a breath of fresh air to the Colorado State Athletic Department.  He brought business concepts and vision to a stale department.  He was a risk taker whose energy got the on-campus stadium off the ground.  He embraced the student-athlete and the spirit and camaraderie amongst the athletes across all sports had never been higher.  His passion for CSU was contagious.

But he was a football guy.  A former CSU quarterback who made a great hire in Jim McElwain.

He was simply not a basketball guy.

Jack was giddy because CSU had been mentioned several times on the national broadcast of the National Championship Football game  because they had hired McElwain from Nick Saban’s staff.  Rightfully so. 

But later that Spring, the CSU Men’s Basketball team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and played the very opening game of the Tourney.  CSU had 30 minutes of continuous airtime in front of the entire nation.  Jack wasn’t even there.  He claimed to have physical issues caused by surgery (cough, cough, fishing trip in Cabo with his buddies).

Earlier that year he had been presented a business plan by then coach Tim Miles to elevate the CSU Basketball program even further. The blueprint was still there even though Miles left for Nebraska.

Jack relied on a search firm to help him select a new basketball coach.  And the search firm brought him Larry Eustachy.  

Eustachy inherited a talented and deep team that Miles left behind and took them into the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament the following year.  He inherited the blueprint that Miles has put together.

But in 2013-14 cracks started to show in the foundation of the CSU basketball program.

And word is that Jack Graham tried to do something about it.

I have heard from several sources that Jack Graham tried to fire Larry Eustachy for cause.  He gathered a ton of information through observation and interviews of others and put together a list that he presented to the CSU legal staff.  And the CSU legal staff said that there was not enough there to fire Eustachy for violation of his contract and wouldn’t support him.

So you see, I’m actually trying to compliment Jack Graham.

Everybody in all walks of life make mistakes on a daily basis.  Anybody who has worked in the business world has made a serious mistake somewhere along the way.  Rather than burying a mistake, it’s important to own up to it and then correct it.

From what I have heard, Jack Graham was trying to correct the biggest mistake he made while at CSU.  Kudos to him.  And I wish him the best of luck in his latest effort  as he is reported to be seeking the Republican nomination for the 2016 US Senate seat from Colorado.  He did some special things at CSU.

Now let’s see if current AD Joe Parker has the skill to take things further than Jack Graham.

Colorado State 63 – Wyoming 42 (Women)

January 31, 2016

The Lady Rams did it again in a resounding way.  They delivered a master class in half-court execution on both ends of the floor as they rolled up their rivals from north of the border. 

Both teams started a little slow on the offensive end.  Wyoming was struggling to make shots but hung in by pounding the offensive glass. CSU was missing at the rim, mostly due to the swarming defense by the Cowgirls.   An Ellen Nystrom 3-ball at about the 3-minute mar pushed the Rams into an 11-7 lead and kick-started a run that continued until the halftime buzzer.

It was ironic that a 3-ball got things going because the Rams were committed to pounding the ball into the paint, either through dribble penetration by Nystrom and Keyora Wharry or via post feeds to Alana Arias.  Wyoming was committed to stopping CSU’s leading scorer Jamie Patrick  which opened up lanes for the Rams to score at the rim.  An athletic putback by Wharry at the second quarter buzzer brought Coach Ryun Williams to his feet and propelled the Rams into the locker room with a 35-16 lead.  For the half, the Rams had shot 53% from the field and held the visiting Cowgirls to 24% shooting.  Nystrom had scored 11, Wharry 10, and Arias 10 and they had shut down Wyoming’s dynamic point guard Marquelle Dent, holding her to 4 points on 2-7 shooting.

To Wyoming’s credit, they made a run at the Rams in the 3rd quarter and early 4th when the game looked lost.  The Rams were a little impatient on the offensive side, choosing to attack a little impatiently. At the same time, Dent and teammate Liv Roberts were heating up and the lead was cut in half.

But it wasn’t to be as the depth of the Rams had worn the Cowgirls down.  Bench players Hannah Tvrdy and Callie Kaiser delivered key plays down the stretch in support of Nystrom, Wharry, and Arias.  Jamie Patrick delivered the icing on the cake with a three-ball in the final seconds and the Lady Rams had scored a famous victory.  For the game they had outscored Wyoming in the paint 40-12 and had 22 bench points to Wyoming’s 3.

Nystrom and Wharry finished with 17 each and Arias had 13 and 8 rebounds. Roberts had 18 for the Cowgirls and Dent heated up in the second half to finish with 14.

The win pushed the Rams to 8-0 in the conference and 18-1 on the season.

Speaking of the bench…  This is clearly the deepest team that Ryun Williams has had in his short time at CSU.  And the staff really knows how to use the depth to match up the best with their opponents.  Came in point in this game.  Starters Elie Gustavsson and Emilie Hesseldal didn’t play many minutes and neither scored a point against Wyoming!  Gustavsson is an All-MWC level player and Hesseldal was coming off a game where she had scored the winning bucket at San Jose State. Because of match-ups and styles, this was a game for Alana Arias, Hannah Tvrdy, and Callie Kaiser, all of whom delivered in a big way.  Wyoming plays 4 guards and a post.  CSU was able to throw 4 bigger, stronger, better guards at Wyoming and a bigger post in Arias. 

How do you stop a 3-point shooter…  The best way is to contest them on the perimeter and not allow them to get shots off.  Wyoming has a freshman from Spain named Marta Gomez, who can really shoot the three-ball.  Gomez is 4th in the MWC in 3-point FG makes per game at 2.2 and 5th in 3-point percentage at 38%.  CSU limited her to one perimeter shot which she missed in 36 minutes on the floor.  I’ll bet CSU’s Jamie Patrick knew what flavor of chewing gum Gomez had (Hoosiers reference!).

Loveland Reporter-Herald reporter Mike Brohard’s is 1-0… Before the game, Brohard’s tweeted that he was standing in for normal beat reporter Sean Star.  Of course I had to give him some crap about getting blamed if the Rams had gone ahead and lost.  They won handily. So maybe Brohard’s should just follow these women around.

CSU brought out some hoops legends at halftime…  Too many to list.  It was nice to see Sam Martin there. Sam was so important in leading the team 2 years ago to their first MWC championship under Ryun Williams.  But the best was seeing Liz English.  I don’t remember the year (2001?) but I do remember the game when Liz led the Rams to their last great victory in Moby over a Top 10 ranked Notre Dame in front of a near sellout crowd.  Becky Hammon was a basketball goddess before her but I loved Liz!

The past and the present in Laramie… Joe Legurski has done a tremendous job in Laramie with the Wyoming program.  This year’s team is down a bit because of some nasty season-ending injuries to three players and having to play a lot of young, inexperienced players.  They are always a tough test, especially with an offense that features tons of screening and motion that can shred you.  The coach previous to Legurski at Wyoming was a guy named Chad Lavin.  Lavin sits as an assistant on CSU’s bench these days.  Wanna know why CSU is so good?  They have a brilliant head coach in Ryun Williams, a brilliant assistant in Tim Moser, and a brilliant former head coach who works part-time as an assistant in Chad Lavin.  Legurski and Lavin are two of the best the women’s game has seen in this region.

  

And the CSU Women Just Keep Winning!

January 28, 2016

I don’t blog much on games that I don’t see with my own eyes.  I can’t get as much of a feel for a game by watching it on TV or listening on the radio and without that feel I don’t think I have much added value.

But I felt compelled to comment a little on the CSU Women and their remarkable win at San Jose State last evening.

San Jose State is a bit of a bogey team for the Rams.  They scraped a win two years ago in San Jose and they knocked the favored  Rams out of the MWC Tourney in Las Vegas last year.  Ryun Williams squad has lost 8 games to MWC opponents in the past 2+ seasons.  And two of them have been to the Spartans.

The Rams had jumped out to a 24-18 first quarter lead but were steamrolled in the second quarter to the tune of 24-11..  San Jose pushed the lead and the Rams closed to trail by 2 at the end of 3.

The Spartans pushed the lead back up to 6 and it looked like it might not be the Rams’ night.  But the team clad in Green and Gold continued to play with poise and crept back in.  A three ball by Hannah Tvdry, an Ellen Nystrom jumper, a pair of short jumpers by Keyora Wharry, three the hard way and from the perimeter by Elie Gustavsson and the Rams had pushed their collective noses to the front.

San Jose State countered to take a one point lead inside of two minutes.

And then the least likely hero emerged.

Emilie Hesseldal is a 6’1″ forward who leads the Rams in rebounding, often draws the toughest interior defensive match-up, and is also asked to initiate the offense by bringing the ball up court.  She is the consummate team player.  She rarely looks to score.

And on this night she was doing her thing,  She had 11 rebounds and 6 assists and had only taken two shots through the first 38+ minutes.

At the moment of truth, she took a pass and nailed an elbow jumper to push the Rams back into the lead at 78-77.

San Jose State tied it at 78 on a free throw and the Rams had the ball again.  They worked the ball around the perimeter and it found its way into Hesseldal’s hands once again.  A shot fake, one dribble, another 15′ jumper…

Swish!

80-78 and the Rams held on from there.

Jamie Patrick had led the Rams in scoring through three quarters but San Jose State made a concerted effort to shut her down in the 4th.  They held her to 0 but every other Ram on the floor showed the balance that this team possesses.  Wharry finished with 16, Gustavsson with 14, Nystrom with 12, and Tvrdy with 7 off the bench.

Last week I was talking to Jamie about stuff and she mentioned that she wished they could win games more easily. From a fan perspective, blowouts are a lot easier on the stomach, but I told her I thought it was good for them to play close games because of who they are and how they play.  They really know how to play with the effort, intelligence, and poise required to win a close game.

With the win the Rams moved to 17-1 for the season and 7-0 in the conference.  Their regular season record in the MWC over the last 2+ seasons is an incredible 37-6.

Next game up is Wyoming on Saturday in Moby.  Border War. Orange Out.  Can’t wait.

These girls can play!

Colorado State 74 – San Jose State 66

January 28, 2016

Rematches can be really interesting.

The first time these two teams met a few short weeks ago, CSU came from behind to first tie the game late to push it into OT, then scored a late layup in OT to come away with the narrowest of wins.

And it was obvious from the opening tip that both teams were ready to play each other as they attacked and defended with the knowledge of what their opponent was trying to do.  San Jose State was defending the Rams well on the perimeter and CSU was doing a good job defending the Spartans in the post. 

The Rams edged out to an 18-12 lead midway through the half but the Spartans reeled them in with a 9-point run of their own.  CSU jumped back ahead by 7, the Spartans brought it back to 4 at the half at 30-26.

Back and forth it went as the Rams would extend and San Jose would reel it in. A lead of 10 went down to 2. A lead of 9 turned into a 1-point Spartan lead.  Rim attacks by Antwan Scott and tough putbacks by Tiel Daniels and Emmanuel Omogbo were countered by SJSU’s Princeton Onwas in the interior and Cody Schwartz from the perimeter.

And then in the end game with the Rams leading by 1, Antwan Scott made the big play that got the Rams over the top.  Onwas attacked the rim once again and Scott helped off his man, ripped the ball from Onwas, and then finished at the rim while being fouled by Schwartz. He completed the and-1, the Rams had pushed the lead to 4, and they finished the game clinically.

Scott had been a dervish in the second half on the offensive end, attacking the rim repeatedly as his outside shot wasn’t falling. He went left, he went right, he went direct and ended the game with 21 points, 8 of which came from the free throw line.  Daniels and Omogbo had been quiet in the first half but were absolute killers in the paint in the second half.  Daniels repeatedly grabbed loose balls and finished at the rim and free throw line; he finished with 10 and 9.  Omogbo slashed his way to the tin and finished with 11 and 7.  Onwas scored 20, mostly in the interior and Schwartz shot 6-11 from beyond the arc to finish with 18 for San Jose State.

For a team that has been through a bit of an emotional roller coaster, it was a solid 40-minute win.  From a fan perspective, it was a very enjoyable game.

The curious case of San Jose State…  It is really hard to figure out why this team doesn’t win more.  They really do have some good players.  They can score inside and out.  They run good sets offensively.  They probably foul a little too much and they aren’t the best on the glass but they have plenty to win more.  I can only describe it as them lacking a collective belief as a team that they can actually win.  It’s a poorly funded and poorly supported program but somehow Coach Dave Wojcik has gotten some good young players to go there and he has them playing better ball than in previous years.  I wouldn’t categorize them as a sleeping giant because they aren’t.  But they sure are better these days.  And Wojcik is a guy you want to root for.  He was classy enough to donate a large sum of money to assist Emmanuel Omogbo and you see his genuine respect both pre- and post-game in how he spoke with CSU players.

Emmanuel Omogbo entered the court to a standing ovation… And it was one of the most touching moments I have seen in Moby.  It was right up there with Senior Night of the 2013 team.  He was a little nervy in the first half but settled down in the second half and was a critical part of delivering a win for the Rams.  Putbacks, slashes, tough rebounds, and a beautiful reverse layup at the end of the game late in the clock to seal the win.  His play was great.  His courage is unsurpassed.

One final thought… The team is progressing but I still think there is a little too much “How am I going to get mine” rather than “How am I going to make it easier for someone else to get his.”  A few too many individual tangents for my taste.

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