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Colorado State 61 – Wyoming 54 (Women)

February 17, 2017

When the MWC schedulers drew this one up, they had no idea what the ramifications of a simple Border War clash would be.  As 3-time defending regular season MWC Champs, every game is big for the Rams in their quest for four in a row.  Wyoming was a pre-season bottom half of conference pick.  But Joe Legurski’s Cowgirls decided somewhere along the way to ignore a silly pre-season poll, positioning themselves at the top of the conference standings.

And so this was no simple Border War.

This was the clash between the first place Rams at 11-2 and the second place Cowgirls at 10-3.  A win would give the Rams a two-game lead and go a long way toward that 4-peat. A Cowgirl win would create a tie at the top and put them in the drivers seat with another match-up still to come in Laramie.  

And both teams delivered high-level performances on both ends of the floor, matching each other basket for basket until the Rams pulled away in the final 6 minutes to score their biggest and best win of the 2016-17 season.

The Cowgirls started fast, making their first 3 field goal attempts and jumped out to a 7-2 lead.  The Rams’ Elie Gustavsson heated up and started scoring at will, pushing them into a 17-11 first quarter lead.  The Rams pushed the lead all the way to 11 in the second quarter before WYoming began a long comeback to et back into the game, trailing by only 33-29 at the half.   Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom were carrying the Rams. Liv Roberts and Hailey Ligocki were carrying the Cowgirls.

And when Roberts opened the second half with a pair of baskets from the low block to even the game at 33, it was game on. The teams matched basket for basket until Roberts drove hard into the paint to score a difficult runner, pushing Wyoming into a 45-43 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter. 

Liv Roberts was willing her Cowgirl squad with her stellar play. 3-4 from the perimeter, pull up jumpers, post moves. You name it she was doing it and an upset was very much in the cards as the 4th quarter began.  

Nystrom missed a jumper and the Cowgirls corralled the rebound.  A chance to push the lead to 4.  

And then it happened.

Roberts ran hard across the lane to establish herself in the low block. As she planted, her knee locked and she fell to the ground writhing in pain.  Deathly silence from the entire crowd as she was tended to and then she was up and helped off the floor to a strong ovation from everyone. Such was her game up until then, earning respect from all who watched. 20 points, 6 rebounds, gritty defense, leadership.

Roberts’ absence affected the Cowgirls on the offensive end and the Rams were able to put the clamps on with their sticky man-to-man defense.  A Hannah Tvrdy 3-ball pushed the Rams back into the lead at 46-45 and that was the score when CSU coach Ryun Williams took a timeout with 6:16 remaining.  The action drawn up led to a Stine Austgulen 3-ball assisted by Nystrom.   Nystrom followed with a block on the defensive end, then assisted Gustavsson on a mid-range jumper that pushed the Rams into a 51-45 lead.

With Wyoming struggling to score, the lead almost felt safe.

Almost.

But the Cowgirls Natalie Baker was having no part of that as she somehow found a way to draw a foul and drain a pair of FTs, then grab an offensive board in the midst of 4 Rams to score a putback layup and bring her team some hope at 53-49.

Another timeout called by Williams.  He called a set that ISO-ed Ellen Nystrom on a smaller defender and she drained a short jumper.  A forced turnover and a layup by Tvrdy (off a feed from Nystrom) and the Rams were almost home free at 57-49.  But again the Cowgirls Baker delivered, this time a three-ball and the Rams’ lead was down to 5.

Some hope for sure.

But theres a reason Nystrom and Gustavsson are seeking their 4th straight title.  They are winners.

And when Nystrom found Gustavsson open for a layup the lead was back to 7. Nystrom calmly drained a pair of FT’s after a WYO layup and the Rams had scored a huge win.

Gustavsson had scored 26 and grabbed 8 boards at games end. Nystrom had scored 18, grabbed 9 rebounds, and delivered 6 assists.  No double doubles on this night. Just 40 minutes of great basketball over the entire 94′. The Rams Hannah Tvrdy finished with 9, 7 of which came in the final quarter and she too played all 40 minutes.

Roberts night had ended prematurely. But Baker had picked up the slack for her fallen teammate, scoring 7 of her team’s 9 fourth quarter points. She finished with 11 and Ligocki had 10.  The Cowgirls had fallen short on the scoreboard but delivered a winning performance over the 40 minutes.  And they had sent a strong message that even without their fallen leader Liv Roberts, they would still be a force to contend with through the stretch drive.

More thoughts…

The two best coaching staffs in the MWC were in Moby.  And it really shows in the quality of play by both teams on both ends of the floor.  Both teams play smart and are well-organized.  They force teams to defend with their offensive movement and they defend physically without fouling.

Its also nice to see the respect both staffs have for each other and the opposing players. Rivalry for sure.  But not with any nonsense.

One final thought…

We’ll never know if the outcome would have been different had Roberts not suffered her injury.  She was certainly having one of those special nights and there was a distinct possibility the Cowgirls were on their way to a famous victory.

But in the end, the Rams won the game.  And they did it because they have a special pair of players in Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson who win.  

Its as simple as that.

They win.

CSU’s MWC regular season record in their 4 years is now 60-8.

That is flat out amazing.

And so are they.

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