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Colorado State 55 – Northern Colorado 44

December 11, 2017

The monkey is off my back!

I was late for the start of the first game of the year and the Lady Rams were summarily and comprehensively trounced by thr Vandals of Idaho. I took responsibility for the loss because I want there to cheer them on for the entire 40 minutes.

Fast forward to the road game in Greeley against a very solid Northern Colorado Bears squad. I had to work and hustled over to Butler-Hancock Arena (sorry, I cant call it the Bank of Colorado Arena). I arrived in time except for the fact there was a long line to get tickets. I stood in line and by the time I found a seat right behind the CSU bench, the game was about 6 minutes old. I feared that I was going to cause another Ram loss.

Not to worry.

The Rams proceeded to deliver a halfcourt clinic on both ends of the floor as they repeatedly pounded shots from the post on the offensive end and defended the Bears completely out of their offensive rhythm with a 2-3 zone and then stifling man-to-man. It was a simple game plan but required a high level of focus.

The Bears had opened the season with wins over very good programs, beating Big East power DePaul on the road and SEC power LSU in their gym. The Bears play 4 guards, pass the ball well, and shoot it well from the perimeter and the free throw line. The key for the Rams defensively was to guard the three-point line effectively and then not foul the Bears as they tried to penetrate the paint off the dribble.

How well did the Rams do?

They held UNC to 3-21 shooting from behind the arc. And only committed 8 fouls over 40 minutes, resulting in only 7 free throws by their opponents.

Offensively, the Rams knew that UNC defended the perimeter well and that their best chance was to do damage inside. CSU used 5 different players in the post, all of whom offered differing challenges to the UNC interior defense.

First there was Annie Brady, a newcomer this year from Salt Lake CC who was getting her first start. Brady attacked the rim but shot pull-ups when her progress to the rim was thwarted. Shoe scored a career high 20 points on 10-14 shooting. Then there was point guard Grace Colaivalu, a freshman with a variety of slick moves from down low. Then freshman Liah Davis, a traditional back-to-the-basket player with the ability to put a defender on her hip and score with both hands. Then freshman Lena Svanholm who attacked with a variety of jump hooks, And finally freshman Lore Devos, a guard with the ability to put the floor and score facing up near the basket. All told, these five players took 40 of the Rams’ 48 shots and made half of them.

The Rams went into halftime with a 27-18 lead after holding the Bears to only 2 points in the second quarter but the second half brought on a different challenge. UNC made adjustments to how they were attacking the Rams 2-3 zone and began to find holes near the free throw line. Midway through the 3rd quarter they had cut the Rams’ lead to 2 as they started burying open jumpers and scoring at the rim.

A timeout ensued and change was coming.

At the sideline Coach Ryun Williams looked at his team and asked them “Are you ready to man up?” The players lit up and man-to-man assignments were made. The Rams returned to the floor and proceeded to take UNC completely out of their man offense by going over and under ball screens and preventing any kind of consistent looks. CSU pulled away steadily though the fourth quarter as Brady, Davis, and Devos all scored attacking the rim.

It was a comprehensive win accomplished with a high level of preparation by the coaching staff and execution by the players. And easily the best game the Rams had played all season. There are still some issues to work out in terms of smarter ballhandling but the win provided lots of positive energy going forward.

Other thoughts…

Sitting so close to the bench allowed several of us to hear instructions given during timeouts. It also allowed us to witness some very strong communication between coach and player after some bad mistakes were made.

In one instance, Devos stole the ball at one end and came down the court 1 against 3. Rather than pulling up and waiting for teammates, she chose to attack and turned the ball over which led to a breakaway layup for UNC. Ryun Williams had seen enough loose ballhandling down the stretch in recent games and really let Devos hear about it. The person I was sitting next to figured that was it for her for the rest of the contest. It wasnt. A minute later, Devos was back in the game and she did her thing effectively down the stretch.

In the final minute with the game pretty much decided, Colaivalu tried to split a pair of UNC defenders rather than making a simple play. She lost the ball. After a UNC miss, she had the ball again and tried to make pretty much the same play. She fell to the ground with the ball in her possession and Williams called a timeout. The players started to sit on the bench and Williams told them to stand up as he read Colaivalu the riot act over her loose play. Colaivalu is a bouncy and creative player but needs to learn how to tone down some of the fancy stuff and make fundamental basketball plays when called for.

It was behavior very much out of character for Williams but important communication nonetheless. He has put much of the success of the team in the hands of these talented freshmen and he has championship expectations.

One final thought…

Senior Hannah Tvrdy is the most experienced played on the team and she played all 40 minutes, scoring 12 points on 4-5 shooting and providing the steady hand required of a leader. Williams describes her as the heartbeat of the team. I like to think of her as the rock proving the foundation for which the rest of the players can build upon.

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