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Colorado State 44 – UNLV 41 (Women)

February 5, 2017

It was a beautiful day in Fort Collins.  Sunny, warm, and a strong hint of golf season coming.

Which means that the regular basketball season is starting to reach its final stretches.  Familiar foes meeting for the second time and there are no surprises.  Players feeling the aches and pains from their daily efforts.  As a result, every game down the stretch is not a work of art but a battle of who can find a way to do enough to come out on top.  It comes with effort, a timely shot, a key rebound, a simple deflection.

And thats how this game played out between league leading Colorado State and lurking contender UNLV. The Rams were coming off a huge road win on Wednesday night in Boise, avenging their only conference loss and essentially eliminating the Broncos from the regular season conference race. The Rebels were coming off a huge road win at New Mexico, keeping their conference title hopes alive.

For the Rams it was about maintaining their standard of excellence. For the Rebels it was backs to the wall fight or flight.

And what ensued was a defensive, knock down drag em kind of affair where both teams defended smartly and physically but struggled to get anything going offensively as they delivered careless turnover after careless turnover.

All you need to know about the first 37 minutes of the game is that it was ugly.  

The Rams led 11-9 at the quarter and 20-19 at the half. A late 3rd quarter burst pushed the Rams to a 32-22 lead after three quarters. An early fourth quarter burst moved the Rams into a 12-point lead.

And then UNLV scratched and clawed their way back, running off 7 points to close the game to 36-33.  And when Rebel Dylan Gonzalez lined up and drained a corner three-ball, the game was suddenly tied at 36-36 with just under 5 minutes to play.

A couple of misses later and the teams were at the media timeout with about 3 and 1/2 minutes remaining.

It was game on.

And thats when championship teams rise to the top.

Coming out of the timeout, CSU’s Elie Gustavsson was the first to step up.  She had struggled a bit throughout the game but at the moment of truth she confidently delivered a shot fake from the perimeter, took one dribble, pulled up and shot a jumper from the elbow.

Swish.

The Rams had the lead at 38-36.

A couple of stops by each team and it was Rams ball inside two minutes. Coach Ryun Williams took a timeout. The Rams patiently worked the ball for 20+ seconds before Hannah Tvrdy found Elllen Nystrom on the baseline.  Nystrom had struggled uncharacteristically the entire game, missing shots badly and throwing passes all over the joint. Nystrom rose and fired a 15′ jumper.

Swish.

The Rams had a valuable 4-point lead at 40-36.

They needed a stop and nearly had it, forcing a UNLV miss, but an offensive rebound and layup got the Rebels back to 40-38.  The Rebels were not going to go away.

And when the Rebels forced a turnover on the inbounds play, they had the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead. The Rams defense which had been stout for most of the game forced a tough shot by Gonzalez. She missed, the Rams’ Callie Kaiser grabbed the rebound and the Rebels were forced to foul.

With just over 30 seconds remaining, Kaiser went to the line for a pair of free throws. Nothing but net on both of them and the Rams were back up by 4.

The Rams needed one more defensive stop but the Rebels’ Brooke Johnson was having none of that.  She took a jab step inside the arc, then fired a step-back three that found nothing but net. The Rebels trailed 42-41 with 19 seconds left.

Forced to foul again after the Rams inbounded the ball and moved it into the front court.  This time it was CSU’s Stine Austgulen who was sent to the free throw line.  And just as Kaiser before her, she found nothing but net on both free throws and the Rams led by 3 at 44-41.

10 seconds remaining and the Rebels needed a 3-ball to tie.  A timeout moved the ball to midcourt and the Rebels were obviously going to run something for Johnson.  CSU had fouls to give and smartly used one at the 5 second mark.  And then a coaching move was made to finish out the game.

CSU’s Ellen Nystrom is the best 94′ defender in the Mountain West.  The Rams had exclusively played their 2-3 zone until now but with the game in the balance in the final seconds, the Rams went man-to-man and matched up Nystrom on Johnson.  Ellen forced Johnson into a tough look from well beyond the arc that fell harmlessly off the side of the rim and when Nystrom grabbed the rebound at the buzzer, the Rams had scored a gritty win.

After struggling so much the first 37 minutes, they delivered a masterpiece of confident shooting and stout defending in the final three minutes to score a valuable conference win.

More thoughts…

The Rams’ junior guard Hannah Tvrdy has become their rock. She plays 40 minutes and takes a lot of the pressure off Nystrom in terms of running the offense. She makes big shots, she defends hard on the perimeter.  Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson are the two visible leaders of this team but Tvrdy was the stabilizing force in this game. I’m not sure the outcome would have been the same without her effort

One final thought…

The Rams moved their record to 17-5 and 10-1 in conference.  The run-in to the regular season conference crown is really heating up.  CSU leads Wyoming by one game and they still have a pair of games with each other. New Mexico is lurking in 3rd place.  UNLV was essentially eliminated from the conference race and Boise State has fallen off the map after beginning the season as second favorite.  Still lots of games to be played with several tough road trips but its lining up for CSU and Wyoming.

Ellen and Elie moved their career MWC regular season record to 58-7 with this win. I dont take any of these wins for granted.  Even on off nights, they deliver win after win.

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