LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Ryun Williams could only shake his head.
Following a record-setting 25-6 regular season, his Colorado State women’s basketball team had simply run out of gas. The Rams, who were picked to finish seventh in the conference preseason poll, had exceeded everyone’s expectations by winning the Mountain West regular-season title and earning the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. But the Cinderella story just wasn’t meant to be.
Behind a combined 49 points from guards Bree Farley and Taylor Thompson, Fresno State (22-10) avenged an earlier loss to Colorado State and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 77-68 win over the Rams (25-7) in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game Saturday night at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“We knew that they are a three-point shooting team, that’s obviously part of their game,” senior forward Alicia Nichols said. “We knew we needed to stop them. Thompson, and Farley were always looking to shoot and we needed to stop them. I don’t really know what else to say about it but we didn’t get it done.”
Despite shooting just 30 percent from the field in the first half, CSU trailed by only four points, going into the halftime break down 30-26. And after cutting the deficit to just two on a layup by AJ Newton with 19:35 left in the second half, it looked as though the Rams would have another signature comeback up their sleeve.
But it wasn’t in the cards Saturday night.
The Bulldogs responded with a 15-6 run over the next 5:08 to extend their lead back to double digits at 45-34. From there CSU could get no closer than five as Fresno State responded to each Ram run with a clutch bucket by Farley or Thompson.
“It just felt like every time we got momentum, they would hit a three,” junior guard Gritt Ryder said. “That’s all I will remember from this game but a credit to them, they stepped up when they needed to.”
After surviving a triple-overtime marathon against rival Wyoming on Friday, CSU simply didn’t have anything left in the tank. Shots that had fallen all year—didn’t. 50-50 balls they had won all season – were just out of reach. Simply put, a team that had dominated opponents for most of this season was soundly beaten by a group who had been here before.
“(There have been times) when we didn’t shoot the ball well and still won basketball games,” Williams said. “It wasn’t that we didn’t play good offense, we got plenty of good shots. It just wasn’t a night that they were converted at the clip they needed to be converted at.”
The second-seeded Bulldogs, picked by a panel of 11 head coaches and media members as the preseason favorite to win the conference, knocked off the top-seeded team for the second year in a row after beating San Diego State in last year’s tournament final.
But for the Rams, it was a crushing blow to come so close their goal of an NCAA Tournament berth only to fall a game short. Colorado State will likely not receive an at-large bid because of a low RPI and weak non-conference schedule. Instead they will learn their fate, possible a bid to the WNIT, early next week.
Still, both players and coaches said they couldn’t be prouder of a group who surprised even themselves with the turnaround they were able to accomplish after finishing 11-19 just a season ago.
“It’s really important that we take a step back and look at the big picture,” Williams said. “That was an incredible run and quite a journey. These kids brought CSU basketball back to life and we can only continue to get better. It stings right now in our locker room and rightly so. We have very, very competitive young ladies and we’ll be better because of this.”
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.