LAS VEGAS — Two done, one to go.
Led by a stifling defense and a balanced scoring effort, the No. 22 Colorado State women’s basketball team moved a step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth with an 60-42 win over second-seeded New Mexico Wednesday night at the Thomas and Mack Center on UNLV’s campus.
Despite having their game delayed nearly an hour from its original start time because of a triple-overtime game earlier in the day, CSU (30-1) showed very few signs of rust against a Lobos team coming off of an impressive win over No. 4 seed San Jose State a day earlier.
The Lobos and Rams traded baskets early, with New Mexico even holding a 12-11 lead late in the first quarter after a 3-pointer from senior guard Bryce Owens. But the second frame belonged to the Rams, with CSU outscoring UNM 18-6 over the next 10 minutes and taking a commanding 31-18 lead into the halftime break.
Buoyed by junior forward Elin Gustavsson’s game-high 18 points and the timely shooting of senior 3-point sniper Jamie Patrick, CSU was able to hold off every run New Mexico could throw at them, thwarting each with either a timely basket or a defensive stand.
“We had a ton of respect for New Mexico,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said. “We had a really hard-fought battle the first time we played them, and I think our kids knew that. We were in for a really tough contest tonight. I really liked how we came focused, I thought really well prepared. The execution was much better tonight. Really good team win against a New Mexico team that we respect the heck out of.”
With New Mexico threatening to make a run late in the third quarter, it was senior Keyora Wharry who took the reins of CSU’s offense, burying two pull-up jumpers late in the shot clock to extend CSU’s lead back to 14, 46-32, heading into the final stanza.
After nearly letting the Lobos ruin their program-record win streak two weeks earlier in Albuquerque with a fourth-quarter comeback, CSU made sure no such thing happened Wednesday, closing this one out by outscoring the Lobos 14-10 in the final frame.
“We knew we didn’t want the fourth quarter to be a hassle,” Wharry said. “We didn’t want to keep going back and forth. So third quarter we put our foot down and we made our mark. So we just cut that off real quick.”
On the night, CSU held New Mexico’s leading scorers, Khadijah Shumpert and Cherise Beynon, to just a combined 19 points on 5 of 23 shooting.
“I would say we guarded her better (than San Jose State did),” Wharry said of CSU’s defense on Shumpert. “We added more focus on her. We knew we could not let her go off or the others would, and it would get the crowd riled up and we didn’t want that. So we calmed that down real quick.”
As a whole, New Mexico shot just 24.1 percent on the night, hitting just 5 of its 22 3-point attempts. CSU, on the other hand, shot 52 percent from the field despite missing 10 of its 13 shots from behind the arc.
CSU will now face the winner of No. 2 seed Fresno State and sixth-seeded UNLV Friday afternoon in the Mountain West tournament championship game, the Rams’ second appearance in the title game in the last three years.
Friday’s game tips off at 1 p.m. PT and will be broadcast online at theMW.com.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.