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South Florida 48 – Colorado State 45

March 20, 2016

A near dream start (10-1) wasn’t enough as the Rams’ magical season came to an end at the hands of a future WNBA’er and a well-coached collection of players from South Florida.

USF’s Courtney Williams was the story of the game as she shot and shot and shot (29 times) and seemingly made and made and made (12 of them) from mostly  the 15-20′ range.  She went on to score 31 of the Bulls’ 48 points, a remarkable 65% of her teams total.  How outrageous was tht? When Wilt scored 100 in the NBA,even he didn’t account for 65% of his team’s points.

The Rams certainly compounded the issue by missing tons of point blank looks throughout the game.  Jamie Patrick had her usual shooting stroke from the perimeter  on her way to 17 points and Ell3n Nystrom had her usual rounded game with 12, 8, and 7.

But while they came up short, nothing can top the furious finish here Rams produced that nearly brought them back from a 12-point deficit with just over 6 minutes to go.  It may have fallen short on the scoreboard but it displayed the essence of this particular team.

The essence of a team that came into the game at 31-1 and riding a 28-game winning streak. That didn’t happen by accident and the Rams were playing like they were convinced they were about to overcome a 46-34 deficit on this evening.

Hannah Tvdry took over the defensive assignment on Williams and held her to one FG, the Bulls’ only points in the final 6+ minutes.  Ellen Nystrom scored a few pull-ups, Patrick nailed a 3-ball, and when Tvrdy did the same the Rams had gotten the deficit down to 3. Another stop, and a chance to tie.

The first good look fell to Elie Gustavsson on the perimeter. The same Elie Gustavsson who was making nearly everything a week prior in the MWC Tourney on her way to tourney MVP Honors. She missed.

A miss on the other end but an offensive rebound gave USF along possession in the final minute. With their season on the line, the Rams defended vigorously for nearly a minute and were rewarded with the ball with plenty of time to tie the game.

The crowd rose as one as the Rams created an open look for Patrick,the top perimeter shooter in the MWC.  Her shot was true to the line but short and glanced off the rim (after the game, she told me she might have hurried it a little). USF grabbed the board and CSU fouled.  USF inbounded the ball and CSU fouled. And then CSU fouled again.

The clock read 2.0 seconds and for most observers the belief was that CSU was dead in the water. Bu not this observer and certainly not this team.  This team possessed an incredible amount of poise and belief throughout the season and they still believed.

USF called their final timeout to set up an inbounds play from their own baseline.  It appeared the Rams only hope was to force a 5-second violation and that’s how they defended. They denied Williams and everyone else and the ball was thrown in bounds to no one. Hannah Tvrdy grabbed the ball and signaled for a TO. The buzzer went off as the clock has been errantly started.

An officials review put 1.6 seconds on the clock and the Rams had heir 3rd opportunity to tie the game and force OT.

Ryun Williams called a timeout and designed a play that required all  3-point shooters on the floor. Emile Hesseldal was the one inbounding the ball. At the top of the key, Ellen Nystrom would set a pick for Patrick and on the near wing, Tvrdy would set a pick for Sofie Tryggedsson.  

Sofie T is a talented freshman who was really starting to gain traction when she turned an ankle mid MWC season. She missed several weeks of games but worked her way back.  She is the definition of a sniper.

Hesseldal was handed the ball. And then Sofie T broke clean on the near wing. She caught, she loaded, she fired.  Mid-flight the ball looked like it had a chance but it rattled around the rim and fell harmlessly away as the buzzer sounded.

The Rams had fallen short but in the most remarkable way.

Because Sofie T had not played at all in this game prior to the final 1.6 seconds. And yet the staff knew she gave them a great option and designed a play that would use her. And then Emile Hesseldal read the play correctly and rather than forcing the ball to Patrick, she trusted the little used but highly talented Sofie T. A senior trusting a freshman who rarely plays.  The ultimate display of trust, love and respect. And while Sofie T missed, she had the courage to be out there to take and make what would be the biggest shot of the season for the Rams.

Sometimes people only see the makes and the final score.  This incredible season will be remembered for the final 5 seconds when a team seemingly dead in the water, showed their class, their respect, and their love for each other. An NCAA Tourney game on the line and they never forgot who they were.

A great team.

Winners.

More thoughts…

After the game I wanted to make sure I touched bases with both players and staff. To the person, everyone thanked me for making the trip out to see them and support them.  Polite, humble, grateful are words that describe this group of women.  But it was me doing the thanking.  For a great and most memorable season.  For being good enough to be in the NCAA which offered an opportunity for me to see them play at Pauley Pavilion, one of the most historic venues in college basketball.  That in of itself was a huge thrill for me.

I was standing with CSU fans, family, and media and looked to my left.  Ellen Nystrom had finished her media responsibilities and wandered to midcourt to catch up with a couple of UCLA women from Sweden. (And there was a male there that sure looked like Wyoming’s Alex Aka Gorski, another Swede). Elie Gustavsson joined them and here they were, a collection of Swedes catching up with each other.

And then I glanced across the court and there was Sofie T sitting and talking with a close friend from South Florida who just happens to be from her hometown in Denmark.   

Basketball had brought these girls to the United States. Their skill got them all into the NCAA Tourney and had afforded the opportunity to see each other and spend time with each other.   We are so fortunate at CSU to have such a wonderful group of international players.

I walked over to Sofie and told her how proud I was of her that she had the courage to take the final shot after sitting for nearly 2 hours.  She was disappointed in herself because she had missed.  But she also told me that she’ll spend much of the off-season working on her corner 3’s and she won’t miss the next time.

Ryun Williams had walked me over to Sofie. That’s what it took for me to actually walk on the Pauley floor. The very floor of Hazzard, Alcindor, Walton, Meyers, Curry… And Wooden.  Trust me when I say this. The security people are instructed not to let regular people (and riff raff like me) on that hallowed floor.

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