The Rams came up short as an Ellen Nystrom baseline jumper bounced off the rim in the final seconds. So many times I have been rewarded wth a Nystrom game-winner over her illustrious four-year career. I never took one of them for granted. And while it was disappointing that she missed and the outcome wasnt what any Ram fan had hoped for, it was inevitable.
Because just about every team ends their season with a loss. Only a tourney winner gets to end their season with a win and in the Women’s game that means UCONN and the winner of the WNIT.
UC-Davis earned the win with some stellar perimeter shooting and timely dallies into the paint. The Rams found a way to go scoreless for over 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter and that was their undoing. Scoring was a challenge for this year’s team at times and what we saw wasnt unexpected. In fact, it was pretty much the norm.
Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson played their final games in Moby and their final games in Rams uniforms. Their list of accomplishments, both individual and as a team, are way to long to chronicle. Over 100 wins, 4 regular season championships, 4 post-season tourneys in their four years.
They delivered as always on this evening. Ellen with 18, 6, and 5. Elie with 12 and 12. When they were on the floor together, CSU was good. When they were on the bench with foul trouble, CSU was not very good. It was that simple. These two young ladies carried the team this year. Teams designed defenses that cluttered up the paint anytime that either Ellen or Elie touched the ball, making it hard for them to get clean looks at the basket. Somehow they always figured out a way.
There were tears at game’s end but none from me.
Ive been blessed these last four years to watch these two extraordinary young ladies not just win on the basketball floor but develop skills that will benefit them outside of basketball when their careers are over. They are energetic, passionate, caring. I got to spend the last four years watching them grow up. Thats not something to cry over. Thats something for which I’ll be ever grateful.
I am so happy for them.
Thanks for the sweet music Ellen and Elie.
Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up
And has left you with no warning
But it’s not always going
To be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
– George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
It was a night of celebration.
A night to celebrate the careers of Elin Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom, both of whom will do down in history as two of the best players to ever wear the green and gold. THe individual numbers they have produces are amazing. More importantly, they came to play every night for four years; Nystrom has started every game in her career and Gustavsson has started all but one.
It was a night to celebrate this 2016-17 team for their regular season MWC Championship. They had wrappped up the conference championship last Saturday in San Diego and it was a chance to recognize them in front of their faithful fans in Moby Arena. Every year plays out differently and this one was special. Picked as PreSeason favorites even though they lost two All-MWC players and 4 of their top 6 players, the external expectations were probably too high for this team. Needless to say, they responded magnificently.
It was also a night to recognize Nevada’s lone senior Stephanie Schmid and their outgoing coach Jane Albright. Albright has a long and storied career, winning over 500 games at Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Wichit State, and Nevada. CSU always does a beautiful job of acknowledging their opponents on Senior Night and this one was no exception as Nystrom and Gustavsson presented bouquets to Schmid and Albright.
And then there was the game.
It started slowly as both teams struggled to find the basket. The first quarter ended with the Rams leading 8-6 and the second quarter was crawling down a similar path until CSU junior guard Hannah Tvrdy took the lid off the basket with a 3-ball. Nystrom quickly followed with a blow-by layup and the Rams were on their way. They opened up their lead to 14 before settling for a 9-point halftime lead.
The Wolf Pack hung tough through the 3rd quarter but when the Rams scored the first 8 points of the 4th, their lead had grown to 18. The outcome had become a formality and there was only one thing the crowd cared about at that point The moment to acknowledge Ellen and Elie.
It came with about 2 minutes remaining as they were substituted off the floor together. The crowd stood and loudly acknowledged their efforts of this evening and all of their other efforts. They hugged their coach and then sat down.
For the record, Elie scored 20 points in her final home game. Ellen scored 19 and finished off a double-double with 10 rebounds. Tvrdy was the only other Ram in double figures with 13 and she showed why she will be the leader of the team next season.
And then it was on to the festivities to celebrate the careers of Ellen and Elie. Lots of smiles, a few tears, but mostly the warmest of feelings as the enormous talents and hearts of these two incredible young ladies were acknowledged for the final time. The most touching moment was the playing of the Swedish National Anthem as Ellen and Elie, draped in the flag of their native country, led family and friends in singing. It was a fitting way to close out the Moby careers of the Fabulous Swedes.
Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori
For you out there that never had to take Latin or read Virgil, here’s how that translates:
Love conquers all; let us all yield to love!
Sure every college basketball game has winners and losers on the scoreboard. But sometimes what happens on that 94′ by 50′ hardwood transcends the simple notion that one team finished ahead of another on the scoreboard.
This game was different. It was a match-up between long time bitter rivals separated by an imaginary line known as a state border. It was one team trying to gain revenge after losing at home to their rival just two weeks ago. It was another team trying to continue their improbable run toward a regular season conference crown. And to top it all off, it was Senior Night, when the local fans would say good-bye to their departing players.
The facts are this:
Colorado State jumped out to a 14-2 lead and could do no wrong. Wyoming reeled them in with their potent offense which featured the perimeter shooting of Hayden Dalton. CSU extended their lead back to double digits with 10 minutes remaining. Once again Wyoming reeled them in, taking their first lead of the game in the final 4 minutes. Back and forth they went with makes and messes until the Rams led 75-73 with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Wyoming created something for their talented sophomore Justin James who had been nearly unstoppable for the entire second half. James elevated and shot a high-arcing jumper from beyond the arc that was so pure it almost wne through the rim without touching the net. It gave him 24 points, 18 of which had come in the second half.
CSU was without star guard Gian Clavell whom James had fouled out a few minutes earlier. The ball came to sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon who calmly brough the ball upcourt. He was defended closely by Wyoming’s Jeremy Lieberman. Lieberman poked and Nixon had to brush him off several times before rising to take the final shot.
And there the ball was suspended in the air.
Just three days prior, CSU’s Emmanuel Omogbo had delivered a game-winning three-ball in the final seconds against San Diego State.
Could it happen again?
And then there was the ball, pure as snow, falling cleanly through the net to propel the Rams into the lead.
And when James’ final midcourt attempt fell harmlessly to the ground after pressure from the Rams’ Nixon and JD Paige, the horn sounded and the Rams were scoreboard winners.
But 7886 people, many of whom rushed the floor to celebrate, knew it was more than that.
It was about the love between seven extraordinary young men, the truly Magnficent Seven. It was about their love for their embattled coach. It was about the love between the players and their families in attendance for Senior Night. And it was about their love for their supporters in the stands.
Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori
Gian Clavell did not have his best game statistically. It didnt matter. There he was giving his all, displaying his passion and energy all night. I’ve been giving him a little crap about his brother Gilberto holding the Clavell family single-game scoring record in Moby Arena. Way back in 2010, Gilberto had scored 29 points in Moby when when he led his Sam Houston State squad to a road victory. Gian had never done that in Moby but he sure was going to try on Senior Night. I wanted to get a picture of the two of them together after the game. I had to wait because Gian made sure to go over and give Wyomings Justin James, who had returned to the floor for a post-game interview, a hug . And then it was time for the picture. When I told Gian that Gilberto was holding up the single finger signifying who was the number one Clavell in Moby, Gian responded “Ask him about his career high.” When I asked what it was he said “It was 35. Mine is 37.”
I love it!
The Rams’ Emmanuel Omogbo broke the all-time single season MWC record for double-doubles in conference games as he went for 13 and 12. The previous record was shared by SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard and Boise State’s Ryan Watkins. Numbers cannot begin to explain the extraordinary season he has had. It was simply one of the finest individual seasons I have ever seen by a Ram in the many years I’ve held season tickets.
One final thought…
Bonner, Carvacho, Clavell, Koelliker, Nixon, Omogbo, Paige
At the press conference following CSUs win over San Diego State on Saturday, after hitting the game-winning three-ball with just seconds on the clock, Emmanuel Omogbo said something that really resonated with me.
According to the Gospel of Matthew Immanuel refers to Jesus Christ. Immanuel (Hebrew: עִמָּנוּאֵל meaning, “God with us”; also romanized Emmanuel, Imanu’el) is a Hebrew name which appears in chapters 7 and 8 of the Book of Isaiah as part of a prophecy of God’s protection from rival kings during the life of Jeshurun.
Emmanual Omogbo has dealt with tragedy at a young age that none of us would ever hope to experience. Not only has he survived, he has thrived. He has transcended his position as a very good college basketball player to become a leader of men and a shining example to the rest of us.
He delivers a double-double nearly every night but that is not what it is about. It is about the passion, the energy, the love, the selflessness that he plays with night-in and night out. It is about the honor be brings every time he steps on the floor wearing the Green and Gold of Colorado State.
At the start of the season, he said in an interview that he wanted this season to be a Thank You to the people of Fort Collins who had helped him through his personal difficulties. He sought to honor us and he has in ways that even he cannot imagine.
The great Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire presented the story of Eric Liddell, a devoutly religious man who ran for God and country in the 1924 Olympics. God and country in that order. And there’s a part in the movie where he receives a note from a fellow competitor right before the 400 Meter final. The note read “He who honors me, I will honor”. A paraphrased passage from the Bible that describes the ultimate respect between those who compete.
And so when Emmanuel Omogbo is introduced on Senior Night on Tuesday Night, I will be there to honor him. He has spent this entire season honoring me through his play and through his unbridled enthusiasm. Ultimately it is his courage and his spirit that I admire the most. Those of us young and old can all learn from his shining example.
Yes we all hope for a win and a first place finish for our team. But Emmanuel Omogbo is already winning the most important race.
I do this blog for fun. I do it because I like to share my perspective of watching a game as a fan from the 7th row and as a fan who has loved this game for over 50 years.
Let me just this out of the way up front.
There is no way I can do justice to what happened on the Moby floor on this glorious Saturday night. The Colorado State Rams, clad in the orange of their past, kept their future conference title hopes alive with one of the most soulful and deep-hearted efforts seen in Fort Collins in years. And maybe never.
There have been plenty of memorable games in recent years. 2011 against CU when Dorian Green made a late runner. 2012 when an undermanned squad beat UNM, led by Pierce Hornung. A crazy comeback vs UNLV in 2012. A great Orange Out win over San Diego State in 2013.
And there they were in the crowd, the great players of the past. Green, Greg Smith, Jesse Carr sitting together. Hornung on the bench in his capacity of Director of Player Development. Greats of the past like Rich Strong, Barry Young, David urcotte, Aki Palmer, Ryan Yoder. Along with nearly 8000 other fans they were witness to a team of seven magnificent players who never stopped saying yes when it would have been easy to say no.
San Diego State got out of the gate the quickest as first Jeremy Hemsley and then Trey Kell nailed a pair of three-balls. The Rams were having trouble getting open looks but it wasnt for lack of effort. It was the direct result of an Aztec team that had been embarrassed defensively at home in the team’s previous meeting.
The Rams had defeated the Aztecs earlier in the year when Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo had combined for 61 points. SDSU coach Steve Fisher wasnt going to let that happen this time and designed a defense that would add help every time Clavell or Omogbo touched the ball. Clavell was guarded by the best perimeter defender in the league in Dakarai Allen but Allen had plenty of support behind him. And Omogbo was not going to get any room driving inside the paint.
The Rams also had made a bit of a defensive change from the first game. They were switching screens way more than they have ever done. They struggled a little early with some of the communication but as the game went on they got better and better. But it was of little effect throughout the first half as the Aztecs shot 5-7 from beyond the arc and nearly 50% for the half. Omogbo had been sent to the bench with his 2nd foul at the 9 minute mark and Clavell was forcing shots from all over the floor. When the Aztecs’ Malik Pope drained a late 3, he sent the Rams into the locker room trailing 33-21. It was the Rams biggest halftime deficit of the year and it would have been much worse save the efforts of two Rams – Nico Carvacho and Bradon Koelliker – who had combined for 7 points and 12 rebounds, many of which kept offensive possessions alive.
The second half would be played with hopes of a comeback and it wasnt far-fetched. The Rams had trailed the Aztecs by 10 and fallen behind by 13 in their first meeting in San Diego before mounting an epic comeback. And when the Rams opened the half with a pair of baskets in the first two minutes, cutting the lead to 8, Steve Fisher took a timeout knowing the fragility of his team in these situations.
And then Fisher made his biggest mistake. His star guard Trey Kell picked up his 3rd foul near the 16 minute mark. An assistant informed Fisher but he was slow getting a sub in the game. Within seconds Kell was called for a soft reach-in foul and now he was on the bench with 15+ minutes remaining and the Rams had closed to 4.
San Diego State wasnt going to do down without a fight and when subs D’Erryl Williams and Zylan Cheatham scored at the rim, the Aztecs had pushed their lead back to 9. They held firm and led by 7 at the under 8 minute media timeout.
Clavell was still struggling to find traction from the field but the Rams, led by Carvacho and Omogbo, attacked every miss as if their life depended on it. They were flying at the glass from all angles and even when they didnt corral the ball they were usually getting a hand on it.
Kell returned to the game but within a minute or so, Prentiss Nixon recognized an opportunity to attack him in transition and fouled him out. The Rams continued to attack, getting the deficit to 1, then tying it on a Clavell three inside of 4 minutes.
Back and forth the two teams went at it. First Hemsley scored a runner, then Clavell countered with a jumper and the game was tied at 52. And when Nixon was fouled going to the rim, the Rams had their first chance to take a lead with their best free throw shooter on the line.
Nixon lined up the first. And missed. And then you could visibly see him get pissed off at himself for missing. At that point you knew that just as the rest of the team, he was locked in for the finish. He defiantly made the second and the Rams had their first lead at 53-52.
And then it was time for both teams to defend as if their lives depended on it. First a Clavell steal. Then San Diego State forcing a shot clock violation. Then another Clavell steal. Then a great defensive effort by Allen to force Clavell into a tough baseline jumper.
And then Steve Fisher called a timeout and drew up a play for Dakarai Allen. It would have been a natural time for Kell to be called on but with him on the bench, it was the senior Allens turn to shine. And he did as, after a defensive switch, he took Nixon to the rim and scored a beautiful layup while drawing a foul. When he drained the free throw, the Aztecs had a precious lead at 55-53 with 20 seconds remaining.
Everybody knew it was time for Gian Clavell. Allen knew, Fisher knew, the Aztecs knew. And they were simply not going to let Clavell beat them. Which left Nixon alone cutting to the rim. The Aztecs immediately reacted with three defenders running on him and blocked the ball out of bounds with 9 seconds remaining (Nixon was planted into the ground with way more contact than Allen had received a few seconds earlier but no call).
CSU had 3 timeouts remaining but chose to ignore that and ran an inbounds play. Somehow Carvacho came free right next to the basket and looked to have a dunk for the tie. He turned it down and passed the ball to Omogbo on the left wing.
Emmanuel Omogbo has been the most inspirational player to don a Ram uniform in recent years. A year ago he lost his parents and his young nephew and niece in a horrible fire. He somehow found a way to finish last season,then returned with a promise to deliver a special season for the people of Fort Collins who had been so generous in donating money to help him.
He has been delivering as promised, leading the MWC in rebounding and becoming a double-double machine.
And there he was in the corner with 7 seconds remaining and the Rams trailing by 2. He began with a shot fake. Then a quick look toward Nixon at the top of the key (who was wide open). He held the ball, then rose up to take the big shot.
When youre watching the game from the lower level and youve seen as many shots as Ive seen from down there, you can see when a shot has a chance to go in. This one had the look. But it also takes place in slow motion when youre at the game as you await the result.
And there the ball was in the air for an eternity, then it was rattling the rim, then it was gently falling out of the net.
The Aztecs were out of timeouts and without Kell on the floor, they scrambled to get a shot. The ball came to midcourt for a desperation heave, the buzzer sounded, the ball fell harmlessly and the Rams had scored a pulsating, energetic, and famous victory, keeping their hopes of a conference title alive.
Another passionate and extraordinary effort from our Magnificent Seven. The magical season continues.
And we as fans are blessed.
One final thought…
Before anyone rails about officiating (and there were some marginal calls), Verne Harris and crew did something remarkable tonight. Every friggin college game always seems to have a clock review at the very end to make sure the tenths of seconds are correct. There was something like 4.6 seconds left on the clock when Omogbo’s three-ball fell through the net.
Harris and crew did not stop the game to review the clock. And why was that important you ask? Because San Diego State was out of timeouts. A clock review would have given Steve Fisher a chance to draw up a play to at least create a final look.
That was great officiating.
Thats what I am as a season ticket holder for the CSU Womens Basketball Team.
Its easy to take for granted what these women do every time they take to the floor because they win so much. They have delivered so many powerhouse performances in Moby over the past few years that its hard to accept close games a lot of nights.
And on this night in Moby, facing the second place Lady Lobos with a chance to clinch a fourth consecutive MWC regular season title, I was hoping (and almost expecting) an easy and convincing victory.
And it sure had a bit of that feel to it in the first half as the Rams jumped out to a 27-17 halftime lead, holding the visitors to 21% shooting with their trademark stifling man-to-man defense.
But coaches get paid to coach and players play to win. Opposing players are on scholarship too. And when the Rams came out of halftime a little slow and the Lobos attacked the Rams more aggressively, it was game on. The Rams fought off a flurry to extend their lead back to 9, but when UNM’s Cherise Beynon went the full length of the court to drain a long three-ball in the final 3.5 seconds of the 3rd quarter, the Rams’ lead had been cut to 3 at 41-38.
Back and forth the two teams went at each other. The Rams were hanging on but barely as New Mexico ratcheted up their defense, forcing the Rams into tough shots and shot clock violations. And when the Lobos’ guard Laneah Bryan drained a corner three ball, UNM had their first lead since the 3:00 mark of the first quarter at 52-51.
And thats when the Rams went to work. Seniors Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson along with junior guard Hannah Tvrdy had speared the Rams’ effort all night.
But it was redshirt sophomore (and Fort Collins native) Myann Hamm who delivered one of the great series of plays over the next minute to propel the Rams.
Within seconds of Bryan’s go-ahead three, Hamm countered with a corner three of her own to push the Rams back into the lead. A minute later, as New Mexico’s Van Der Kiel was maneuvering in the post, Hamm swooped in from the wing to steal the ball. Then, after a Nystrom miss, Hamm poke-checked the ball from Beynon at mid-court and scored a breakaway layup to push the Rams lead to 4 at 56-52.
But the Lobos werent going away easily, and when Bryan banked in a three from the top of the circle, the lead was 56-55 with 35 seconds remaining.
And now it was time for Nystrom to do her thing.
The Lobos chose not to foul (they were sitting on only 1 team foul at the time) and the Rams calmly moved the ball around until there were about 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Nystrom caught the ball at the top of the key, the rest of the Rams spread, and it was Iso time for the Swede. A couple of games ago she had shot a pull-up jumper to beat Fresno at the buzzer in a similar situation. Guarded by 6’5″ big Van Der Kiel, it looked like it could be the same. But a head and shoulder fake at the elbow, a couple of dribbles later, Nystrom scored a flying underhand layup as the shot clock expired.
Still 5 seconds remaining and with the Women’s game allowing the ball to be inbounded at midcourt after a timeout, there was plenty of time for the Lobos to send the game into OT.
The Lobos ran a play that got their leading scorer for the game Alex Laperolorie what appeared to be an open look on the far wing. She caught the ball and elevated to shoot. But out of nowhere came Nystrom who flew high and far and rejected the shot out of bounds. Two seconds remained on the clock and the Lobos tried a similar play to the other side. But when Gustavsson jumped out, the ball was fumbled, and the buzzer sounded.
Another close victory where the Rams had out executed their opponents down the stretch. Its become a bit of a trademark of this year’s squad who have a hard time making enough shots to put their opponents away.
Nystrom and Gustavsson were the Dub Dub Girls once again. Nystrom finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals; a sublime performance by the reigning and about to be repeat MWC Player of the Year recipient. Gustavsson struggled from the field, finishing with 11 points on 4-15 shooting, but grabbed 11 rebounds and played outstanding post defense. UNM’s Beynon had a double-double, Bryan would finish with 12 on 4-5 shooting from beyond the arc, and Laperolerie had 16.
But no one was bigger than Myann Hamm in that one glorious minute as the Rams clinched their fourth consecutive title.
Like I said, I’m spoiled.
More on the Dub Dub Girls…
Ellen Nystrom is clearly on her way to winning her second consecutive MWC Player of the Year Award. And Elie Gustavsson is on her way to All-MWC honors for the first. Time after being named the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s MWC Tourney. Nystrom has started every game in her CSU career and Gustavsson has started all but 1. They are the first duo to win four consecutive MWC Basketball regular season championships. And with the win over New Mexico, their record in regular season conference games now stands at 61-8.
Nystrom also showed why she should be named Defensive Player of the Year as well. She spent most of this game with the defensive assignment on 6’5″ big Van Der Keijl. SHe held her to 6 points on 2-8 shooting, well below her 14ppg average. And then at the moment of truth she jumped out and recorded her 4th block of the game on Laperoleries jumper. She can guard all 5 positions, she grabs defensive rebounds, she records steals. Voters always favor shot blockers in these awards but there is no doubt who the best defender is.
CSU does a really cool thing by posting Twitter photos on the big video board. My dogs Ogie and Wally made their debut last night sporting their Swedish flag bandanas in honor of the Dub Dub Girls.
I guess I was supposed to be shocked to find out that CSU Head Basketball Coach Larry Eustachy verbally abused his players several years ago and behaved poorly.
Because based on my own experiences I had already decided that the guy is a big time prick.
But thats neither here nor there.
Because all this does is serve as a distraction to the real issue. Which is Larry Eustachy has taken a solid program that he inherited at CSU and turned it into a mediocre one.
He came to CSU after the 2012 season and took over a program that earned an NCAA At-large bid and had achieved an RPI of 29. Everyone returned the following year and the team once again earned an NCAA At-Large bid with an RPI of 20. That season was an interesting one because after 8 games and the team coming off a perplexing loss on the road to a horrible Illinois-Chicago team, they turned to Assistant COach Niko Medved to reinstate an offense that took better advantage of that team’s skill set.
Since that glorious season in 2013, here are CSU’s RPI rankings:
185, 37, 171, 103
A performance as uneven and mediocre as their coach.
It doesn’t have to take five years to build a successful program. Especially one that began with a solid base.
I point to another coach and program as an example.
In 2013, after serving as a successful assistant at several schools, a young coach took over a floundering D-1 program in a smaller one-big type of conference. They were coming off a 5-25 season and a 343 RPI.
Here’s the progress theyve made in terms of RPI:
339, 294, 176, 95
Thats right. A long steady trend into the Top 100 and a first place position in their league after being in the ashes just four years prior. And its been done without the drama of academic suspension, Performance Improvement Plans, etc.We Colorado State fans are all familiar with the coach who has accomplished this.
It happens to be none other than the aforementioned Niko Medved who is doing his good work at Furman.
We can debate about coaching methods, athletics as a front porch etc until we’re blue in the face. And there are legitimate arguments to all sides. But there are objective measures that offer far less in terms of debate and opinion
But as a fan, I try to keep as objective a view as I possibly can. The Colorado State Mens Basketball program under Larry Eustachy is worse off than the one he inherited. He’s had five years and thats plenty of time to build, grow, and sustain. Thats what Niko Medved has done at Furman.
Its time for CSU to cut Sideshow Larry loose.
And if that makes me a fucking cunt, so be it.