Another year, another Mountain West regular season title for the CSU women’s hoops team.
With a 74-56 win over Nevada on Saturday, the No. 25 CSU Rams guaranteed themselves at least a share of the regular season conference title for the third straight season in front of 2,376 fans in Moby Arena.
Though the Rams (26-1, 16-0 MW) will not be fully satisfied until they clinch the conference outright, they still recognize seizing a part of the MW crown for a third straight season as a feat.
“It means a lot,” fourth-year head coach Ryun Williams said. “It’s big. It’s hard to do, it’s really
hard to do. The fact that we’ve set ourselves up to have a share of the conference title, it just means our program, we got this thing turned around. Now we’ve got some consistency as far as excellence. That’s what we want to be about. We want to play for championships here.”
But the Rams refuse the idea of sharing anything. They want to extend their school-record winning streak and end MW play undefeated. But CSU has to go through Fresno State when it comes to Moby Arena on Tuesday, giving the Rams the chance to clinch the league title outright against the second-place team in the MW that has trailed right behind CSU in the standings all year.
“It was kind of after the game that coach was like, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re sharing the title,'” forward Elin Gustavsson said. “But we’re not done yet.”
Williams believes the way Fresno State has stayed competitive with CSU in the conference has kept the Rams focused on perpetual improvement in anticipation for their one and only matchup with the Bulldogs this season.
“This group should be very, very proud of what they accomplished, (but) it’d be hard to tell them that right now,” Williams said. “Their mind is not there. Their mind is on Tuesday. They don’t think we should share this. I’m glad Fresno is coming in on Tuesday. Fresno being right behind us nipping at our heels all year I think has kept our edge. That has helped us improve as a basketball team and not take our foot off the gas.”
The Rams had to overcome a bit of a slow start against Nevada (5-22, 4-12 MW) to clinch their share of the title Saturday, though. After starting out a bit cold shooting, CSU led by just five after one quarter 16-11.
Then senior guard Keyora Wharry took over to keep CSU on top by a safe margin. She scored eight second quarter points, all of them, of course, on her signature dribble-drives that any defender has yet to prove she can stop this season. The Fresno, Calif. native hit a runner in the lane at the halftime buzzer to put CSU up 35-27 at the break.
Wharry ended with 15 points on the day.
The third quarter was when CSU really opened it up, and it did so using a strategy it hasn’t since before conference play began: the full-court press. Williams put Elin Gustavsson on the inbounder in the backcourt, and she came over to trap the ballhandler quite effectively in the corner. In one sequence, Gustavsson made a steal, layed it in, then turned right around for another steal that led to a bucket and a foul.
“We haven’t pressed in a while, it was something we did early on in the year,” Williams said. “But it was a game where (Nevada) kind of controlled the tempo early on. And they were coming down and setting and running their actions, and it was hard to dictate. That’s what we like to do. I thought it was critical to make them play basketball and not run plays.”
After Gustavsson’s back-to-back layups, both Moby Arena and her fellow Rams went into a frenzy over the run.
“You know what? I think I was more excited when I saw the team, how they reacted,” Gustavsson said. “Because I was just like, ‘Oh, I love you guys,’ you know? Of course, it was nice that I made my shots, but that really shows what type of chemistry we have and what type of team we are.”
By the end of the third quarter, the gap was wide enough to call it, as CSU led 64-37.
Gustavsson ended with 13 points, four rebounds and three steals on the day. Jamie Patrick also tied Wharry’s 15 points, while Ellen Nystrom attempted just two shots in the game to end with six points, but she dished nine assists.
CSU tips off with Fresno State at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in Moby Arena.
Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.