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Oklahoma 78 – Colorado State 46

November 22, 2017

Its never fun to watch your team get smacked around on their home court. Yes it was a blowout in the end as the athleticism and skill of the visitors emerged over 40 minutes.

But from where I sit, the Rams played their best 20 minutes of the year in the first half.

They defended very well in the halfcourt, throwing effective double teams in the post to slow down Oklahoma big Vionise Pierre-Louis who came into the game averaging 21 and 12. The Rams were staying true to their man-to-Man principles and forcing the Sooners to work for every basket.

On the offensive end,the Rams were spreading out the bigger visitors and getting the ball effectively into the paint. They were moving the ball and minimizing the turnovers. Only one problem. CSU was not finishing at the rim and when fouled, they were missing their free throws. There were at least four missed layups and when combined witha 2-9 effort from the line, the Rams had left a ton of points out there.

They trailed 31-19 at the half. And were probably kicking themselves as they could very easily have been near or in the lead.

That was the first 20 minutes.

And then the game was decided in the first 2+ minutes of the second half as the Sooners ratcheted p their energy and the Rams failed to respond. Three unguarded layups (one after a missed double team in the post) and a three-pointer and the Sooners early 9-0 run essentially salted the game away when they led 40-19.

Oklahoma threw a variety of defensive pressures including a halfcourt 1-3-1 zone that caused the Rams fits and completely shut down their ability to get to the basket. Misses from the perimeter followed and when the defense failed to shut down the Sooner’s Gabby Ortiz from the perimeter, the rout was on.

The one bright spot in the second half for the Rams was the emergence of redshirt freshman Grace Colaivalu who was fearless in the way she attacked the paint. She finished at the rim (Colaivalu had been one of the culprits of missed layups in the first half) and finished through contact. She would end up as the Rams leading scorer with 12 points.

Not a pretty result for the team.

But a heck of a learning experience in what it takes to beat teams at a high level. It takes 40 minutes of full effort on both ends of the floor and it means you have to put the ball in the basket. A lapse here or a lapse there and a game can completely unravel as this one did.

Credit to Oklahoma for coming into Moby and teaching the Rams a hard lesson. The Sooners sustained their level of play for 40 minutes, never once taking a possession for granted. They were the masters of the outcome.

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Colorado State 75 – Eastern New Mexico 35

November 17, 2017

For every correct answer to the following, score yourself a Field Goal.

Where is Eastern New Mexico located? if you know what city the visitors are from, you just nailed a layup

What conference do the Greyhounds play in? Score yourself a layup for the correct answer.

And finally, prior to being nicknamed the Greyhounds, what were the ENM Womens teams known as ? Answer this correctly and it’s worth a make from beyond the arc.

The Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds (formerly known as the Zias) , a member of the D-2 Lone Star Conference, invaded Moby Arena on Thursday night bringing their brand of basketball all the way from Portales, NM..

There’s your answers to my three questions.

And if you answered all three correctly, you scored three field goals which is one more than the Greyhounds scored in the first half.

That’s right.

The Rams defense held them to 2-20 shooting as they rolled their way to a 40-13 lead. That’s all you really need to know about the game which could politely be called a mismatch.

What you also need to know is how unproductive the CSU starting five is offensively. Low energy, featuring players who can’t shoot, won’t shoot, or shoot too much. Slow starts are becoming way too common. The common denominator- players who aren’t very effective at making their teammates better..

What you also need to know is that there are several players waiting in the wings who play as if they know they have to earn their minutes. They come off the bench and play harder. They make more mistakes but there is no doubting the effort. And the interest in playing the game correctly.

Players like junior Callie Kaiser who went for 14 and 7 off the bench. Players like Freshman Grace Colaivalu who had 6 assists in 13 minutes on the floor; 6 more assists than 3 of the starters combined. Colaivalu and Kaiser also combined for 4 steals, 2 more than the starting five had.

I could go on and on but you get the picture.

The talent and the coaching they receive is there to blow out inferior opponents. What’s unclear is whether this entire team really has the will to play with the effort required to maintain their perch at the top of the Mountain West.

Colorado State 80 – Winthrop 76

November 15, 2017

The ticket said Game #4, 7:00PM vs Winthrop University.

It didnt say that the Rams were playing a doubleheader which is what we witnessed at Moby.

The first game featured a lethargic Colorado State team playing a crisp Winthrop squad.

On offense, the Rams were simply offensive. Lots of meaningless dribbling to nowhere, lots of poor passing, lots of quick and selfish shooting followed by lots of missing. Forward Che Bob was the biggest culprit. In one first-half sequence, Bob brought the ball up the court and decided it was his turn to shoot and threw up a brick from beyond the arc. On the subsequent possession (after Coach Larry Eustachy clearly told Bob to work the offense), Bob took an immediate shot after the first pass of the possession.

Che Bob – say hello to the bench!

It wasn’t just Bob.

Numerous trips down the floor saw center Nico Carvacho not get a touch even though he was scoring every time he touched the ball. Part of it was selfish play and part of it was complete incompetence when it came to feeding the post. And yet even Carvacho wasn’t immune to the selfish play as he grabbed a defensive board and decided he was going to dribble all the ball up the floor. Which resulted in a strip and a turnover.

It wasn’t just the offense as on the defensive side, CSU was struggling to move their feet, taking silly fouls, and forgetting to close out on shooters.

The Rams trailed the first game 39-32 after the first 20 minutes.

The Winthrop onslaught continued after the teams came out of the locker room. Bob made a poor post pass intended for Carvacho on the first possession (bless the coaching staff’s heart for recognizing the need to get the ball into Carvacho!) and the result was a turnover. The defense continued to whiff on defending the perimeter.

Five minutes out of the locker room, the Eagles led 50-36 and they were declared winners of the first game.

The second game began immediately and was highlighted by a Rams’ substitution. Guard Raquan Mitchell, a 6′ leaping ball of energy came into the game and the Rams immediately went on a 4-0 run forcing Winthrop to take a timeout.

(Note: Someone forgot to tell the scoreboard operator that the first game had ended and a second one had begun so the score read 50-40)

The Rams continued the run coming out of the timeout and cut the lead to 6. They were defending the perimeter with a little more energy. On the offensive side, they were attacking the paint and following up misses at the rim relentlessly. Prentiss Nixon was heating up, forward Econ James was scoring inside, and Carvacho was asserting himself as well.

The Rams had closed to 65-63 at the under 8 minute media timeout.

And thats when Eustachy upped the ante even further.

He substituted Anthony Bonner for Deion James (James had been playing well). The insertion of Bonner meant that the Rams would be playing with 4 guards (Nixon, Paige, Mitchell, Bonner) and center Niko Carvacho.

It paid immediate dividends as Bonner was fouled coming out of the timeout and the Rams were back into a tie at 65.

Anders Broman of Winthrop countered with a pull-up jumper and a free throw and Winthrop was back up at 68-65.

And then it happened.

Anthony Bonner penetrated the lane from the top of the key and threw up a beautiful lefty layup – AND MISSED!

Out of nowhere, Mitchell flew (and yes he really flew) to the rim and dunked the ball viciously.

https://mobile.twitter.com/CSUMensBball/status/930657627134218240/photo/1

It brought a large roar from the crowd and energized the Rams to take the next step required to close the game out. A pair of Carvacho free throws, a pair of Bonner free throws from a technical foul, and a Mitchell three ball off of the extra pass from Bonner pushed the Rams into a 74-68 lead.

There were still nearly four minutes remaining. Plenty of time for the Eagles to mount a comeback but the Rams weren’t having any part of it as they continued to play aggressively on both ends of the floor.

The four-guard lineup had worked but it required a couple of pieces beyond the aggressive perimeter defending by players like Mitchell, Nixon, and Bonner. It required JD Paige at 6’3″ to defend Winthrop’s Xavier Cooks, a 6’8″ forward with tons of skill. Paige repeatedly got the better of Cooks, denying him the ball in the post and forcing him into awkward shots. It also required Niko Carvacho to gobble up every missed shot with the floor so spread and Carvacho responded beautifully. He would end the game with 20 rebounds.

The final buzzer sounded and the Rams had won the second game by 18 points.

For the doubleheader the Rams went 1-1. But for the real 40-minute game, they had somehow found the energy and the path to complete one of the best comeback wins in Moby Arena seen in awhile (2015 vs UNLV comes to mind as the most recent).

Nixon led 5 Rams into double figures with 16 of his own. James had 14, Carvacho and Mitchell had 11, and Paige 10. Carvacho’ 20 rebounds helped the Rams into a 51-29 rebounding advantage which was enough to overcome sloppy play that led to 18 turnovers.

Now if they can figure out a way to play 40 minutes the way they played the final 15, we might just be onto something.

Colorado State 65 – Gonzaga 49

November 14, 2017

So I have to come clean.

I didnt blog the last game which our Lady Rams lost 83-69 to Idaho. The invading Vandals shot lights out in a display that was reminiscent of New Mexico’s men in 2013. They outfought the Rams on the glass and on the floor and were deserving winners.

But I didnt hold the loss against them. Because I was late to the game and didnt get to my seat until about 5 minutes had elapsed. The Rams led that one 8-5 when I got there. Next thing you knew the Vandals had a 26-8 lead. 21 in a row. It was my punishment for being late. A game that the basketball gods abandoned my team because of my transgressions.

It had nothing to do with the Rams not hitting the glass, not defending with enough energy, taking and missing bad shots.

Fast forward to tonight with a bigger, better opponent. The Gonzaga Lady Bulldogs. Defending conference champions from a very good WCC. Enough returning players to be picked as the 2018 pre-season WCC leader. N 11-seed last season in the NCAA Tournament.

I made sure to be in my seat for the opening tip so that the basketball gods would create a level playing field. Things couldnt go as bad as they had against Idaho.

And yet Gonzaga ran out to an early 13-2 lead scoring easily. The Rams started 1-8 from the field and things werent looking good. Its the kind of stuff that can happen with a young and inexperienced team early in the season. Its not what fans have been conditioned to watch in the past four years but you cant say that it s unexpected at this point of the season.

The Rams closed the quarter trailing 20-9 as only freshman Lore Devos and junior sharpshooter Sofie Tryggedsson put their names on the scoresheet.

And then in the second quarter along came Annie Brady. Brady is a JC transfer from Salt Lake and had shown glimpses of effective play in the paint in very limited minutes. Not so much in terms of scoring but a physical edge and a desire to compete for rebounds.

And the Rams began their way back in the game as Brady grabbed rebounds in bunches and scored at the rim. Her play opened things up on the perimeter and the Rams began to make shots from beyond the arc. When Tryggedsson made her third consecutive three-ball, the Rams had pushed themselves into the lead at 33-31 when the halftime buzzer founded. Brady had 5 and 7 and Sofie had 12 points.

While the shooting had improved, it was the work on the glass that propelled the Rams back into the game. Gonzaga is a physical team and regularly outrebounds their opponents. At the half, the Rams were +8 on the glass.

It felt a bit like – gasp – a Larry Eustachy type of game.

Gonzaga came out to start the second half as if they had heard a bit of a come to Jesus halftime talk from their coach. Very fast and very physical. An attempt to exert their will and re-establish themselves.

And the Rams handled it beautifully as they continued to defend and rebound. They punched back with a Hannah Tvrdy 3-ball and a Devos layup. They pushed their lead to 38-31 and the Rams were starting play confidently. A beautiful drive and dish by Veronika Mirkovic to Brady pushed the Rams into a 40-31 midway through the quarter and the crowd roared in appreciation of a beautiful basketball play.

Gonzaga scored their first hoop of the second half after nearly 6 minutes to bring the score to 40-33. Little did anyone know that it would be the closest the Lady Bulldogs would come for the rest of the game.

The ball was moving on the offensive end and no matter what Gonzaga threw at them, the Rams continued to create good shots. The feet were moving on the defensive end and every Gonzaga miss was being followed by Rams voraciously gobbling up rebounds. By quarter’s end, the Rams held a 46-38 lead.

Gonzaga continued to throw the kitchen sink defensively at the Rams with a variety of presses, traps, and halfcourt defenses and the Rams responded as a quality team would. They methodically ran their sets and created good shots. Gonzaga forced a good number of turnovers but the Rams recovered well enough to prevent any easy baskets.

Six minutes into the final quarter, the Rams were on a 13-4 run and the lead was 59-42. Not quite home free but the Fat Lady was warming up. She sung her first note when Mirkovic scored at the rim following a Tvrdy miss and was in full voice after a Stine Austgulen steal and a pair of Tvrdy free throws.

The final buzzer sounded and the 2017-18 edition of the Rams had scored a famous victory over a very good opponent.

Annie Brady finished the game with 11 points and 15 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. Hannah Tvrdy had also produced a double-double from her guard position, delivering 10 points and 10 rebounds. Devos and Tryggedsson both finished with 12 points and Austgulen delivered a solid yet quiet 11 points. Five in double figures, reminiscent of the 2013-14 championship team that scored by committee.

And while they had turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 19 times (credit Gonzaga for a lot of those), the Rams had delivered a game on the glass unlike any seen in quite awhile. They outrebounded the Lady Bulldogs 48-31. They not only fought the Bulldogs but they were often fighting each other as well.

They looked they had received a dose of Rebounding Religion and it was something they can build on in this very young season.

Colorado State 72 – Sacramento State 61

November 11, 2017

Hoops is back!

The Rams began the 2017-18 regular season on an 11-0 run and looked to be merrily on their way to a laugher. Che Bob, Anthony Bonner, Prentiss Nixon, and JD Paige all placed their names on the scoresheet and big Nico Carvacho was controlling the paint.

But something happened on the blowout path as both Bob and Carvacho were sent to the bench with 2 fouls each inside the first 8 minutes. The kind of situation that can turn a win into a loss in the early season as a team looks to find its identity and rhythm.

And while Sacramento State gradually clawed back into the game and pushed into the lead at 28-26 late in the first half, the Rams responded well to the adversity created by foul trouble.

Nixon and Paige were providing the leadership and effort. Off the bench came Deion James, a highly touted forward from the junior college ranks. James has been adjusting to the new level of play and quickly joined the fray, scoring 6 and grabbing 5 board. Guard Raquan Mitchell, another junior college transfer, played with bounce and energy. Guard Robbie Berwick, a transfer from Florida State, added intelligent play on both ends.

Berwick countered the Hornet lead with an immediate parry into the paint and the Rams held a 2-point lead as the halftime buzzer sounded.

A small lead for sure but not one of discomfort. The Rams had held it together. The type of play that can be built upon.

And when the second half began with Carvacho and Bob back on the floor, the game turned much the way as the game had started as the Rams ran out to an early 8-point lead. CSU was attacking the rim on the offensive end and guarding with a bit more energy on the defensive end, forcing the visitors into miss after miss.

And then we got a look at where this team is really headed.

Deion James returned to the game in place of Bonner and the Rams had a lineup on the floor of Carvacho, James, Bob, Nixon, and Paige. Size, speed, athleticism. The Rams pushed the lead into double digits and held it there, trading baskets and misses with their tiring opponents. Berwick and Bonner also were involved as each of them had successful trips to the rim.

With about 6 minutes left, a decision was made to go small to counter a smaller Sacramento State lineup. Carvacho and Bob went to the bench. The decision backfired as the Hornets cut the deficit to 7 and it was almost a game. Not to worry though as Bob and Carvacho reentered and veterans Nixon and Paige took charge to finish the game off.

From the scoreboard perspective, it was not a resounding win. From the perspective of a team developing in the early season, it was a very good win. The Rams had overcome adversity of foul trouble. They were forced into played new combinations and they were successful. They did it with sound defense and solid ball movement offensively, creating lots of good looks but probably missed more than they will down the road. The Rams were far from perfect but they displayed a solid foundation to build upon.

Prentiss Nixon led the way with 16 points and JD Paige threw in 15. Deion James finished with 10 and 8. Bob with 8 and 10. And while Carvacho struggled to finish at the rim, he was a beast on the glass with 15 boards and generally controlled the paint on the defensive end.

Paige had drawn the guard on Sacramento State’s Justin Strings, a beast of a scorer at 6’7″ and 220 pounds. Strings scored a game-high 19 points but it took 22 shots as Paige made him uncomfortable and forced him into misses when attacked in the low block.

One final thought

A very simple one.

Prentiss Nixon and JD Paige are absolute rocks. I am going to enjoy watching them from Row 7 this season.

Colorado State 78 – UC-Colorado Springs 60

November 2, 2017

I’m always excited when basketball season begins.  And it always feels like a new year when I venture to Moby Arena to watch either the CSU Men or Women from my familiar seats in Section F, Row 7.

Earlier in the week, instead of watching the Broncos deliver another pathetic performance, I went on a streaming binge with my wife.  The show was a 2-year TV series named “Smash”.  Over the course of 3 nights, we watched 15 episodes of Season 1.

“Smash” is the story about bringing a Broadway musical to life .  Central to the story is the  director’s vision that brings a highly talented but inexperienced actress into the lead role over more established and experienced stars.  

I try not to draw any major conclusions from an early exhibition game.  But it sure felt like this year’s CSU Womens team could very well be a hardwood version of “Smash” with Head Coach Ryun Williams cast as the director.

CSU lost two of their best players ever in Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson.  They return several players with experience so it was no surprise when the starting line-up included Seniors Stine Austgulen, Hannah Tvrdy and Veronika Mirkovic and junior Sophie Tryggedsson alongside freshman Lore Devos (more on Devos later).

What was a surprise was how poorly that group began the game as they were content to hoist shots from the perimeter and werent exactly defending in a way fans have come to expect out of a Williams-coached team.  Before you knew it, the Rams had fallen behind by double digits at 21-10 and ended the quarter trailing 23-15.

The buzzer sounded, the teams gathered around their coaches.  And out of the CSU huddle came a team of 5 players who were either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Guards Gracie Colaivalu, Nathalie Linden and Jordyn Edwards, wing Lena Svanholm and post Liah Davis.  They came out with energy,  they came out with a purpose to get the ball into the paint, they came out with a desire to get defensive stops. Colaivalu scored on a driving left-handed layup, Edwards scored in the paint as well as the perimeter, and Davis attacked the rim with power from the post. At the half, the Rams had moved into the lead at 33-32 but more importantly, 5 freshmen had taken the floor and played with the skill and poise of upperclassmen.

The Rams would continue their progress in the 3rd quarter as senior Tvrdy and Mirkovic gained some traction, especially on the glass where the Rams had been badly outplayed in the first half.  Devos began to score inside and out and both Tvrdy and Mirkovic were scoring in the paint.  The Rams pushed their lead to 10 but ended the quarter leading only 47-43 after Colaivalu dimed up Mirkovic for a corner jumper at the buzzer.

Williams went with a predominantly freshman lineup to begin the fourth quarter and the payoff came quickly as Svanholm scored 10 points in the first 3+ minutes.  The Rams had pushed their lead to a comfortable margin and were home free.

When all was said and done, the freshmen , led by Lena Svanholm’s 14 and Lore Devos’ 12 points, had combined for 53 of the Rams’ 78 points. Senior Hannah  Tvrdy recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

They had thrashed the visiting Mountain Lions on the scoreboard but left their director with choices to make as the season progresses. Take the safe route with established veterans or turn to the talents of the rookies.  Obviously there will be a blend of both and that is what makes for the excitement as the director and cast seek their 5th consecutive smash hit.

UC-Davis 58 – Colorado State 57 (Women)

March 20, 2017

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