LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The atmosphere inside the Colorado State locker room was something you would only understand if you experienced it yourself.
There were about a dozen players crammed into a space equivalent to that of a dorm room, enclosed by cold concrete walls. The only sound made was the crumpling from wrappers of post-game sandwiches.
The final buzzer of the Mountain West tournament had rung through the Thomas & Mack Center more than 20 minutes prior, but the Rams remained huddled together, still dressed in their game uniforms. Nobody spoke a single word — probably because there wasn’t much to say.
Their eyes all landed on me when I turned the corner and entered a circle of women who just had their dreams crushed. There I was, just some goofy collegiate reporter sporting an ugly pink shirt and a bad mustache, tasked with asking them what went wrong.
Safe to say it wasn’t the ideal situation for any of us to be in.
Fresno State had stolen their hopes of playing the sport they love on the nation’s biggest stage by claiming the only conference bid to the NCAA tournament with a 77-68 victory in the MW title game Saturday night.
Despite a more than impressive 23 regular season wins, the Rams will miss out on the big dance for the 13th consecutive year.
“We’ll remember this feeling,” guard AJ Newton whispered to me in the corner closest to the door, our voices echoing through the silence that filled the air. “It really hurts right now, and it’s going to hurt until we play another game.”
Newton was the only player I pulled aside from the group because of the way she played coming down the final stretch of CSU’s loss. It showed in both her eyes and late-game statistics that she wasn’t ready to accept defeat.
The Rams were trailing by 12 points when she raised the level of her game. In the final two minutes, Newton threw the weight of the team on her back, putting up five shot attempts, all but one from behind the 3-point line where the Rams were shooting an abysmal eight percent at that point.
She connected on three of them, restoring faith in any hope of pulling off a comeback. It didn’t matter if she had an open look or not, just like how it didn’t matter that she’s listed at 5-foot-3 and chose to shoot over the contest from 6-foot-1 forward Alex Sheedy of Fresno State.
“It was the thought of realizing the championship we’ve worked so hard for was slipping away from us. We had to find a way, something crazy needed to happen and hoping for something like a miracle to happen,” she said about taking the reins.
Although the game clock expired before the Rams could find what Newton was searching desperately to find, it was nothing short of admirable to watch her go down swinging the way she did.
However, it had a time stamp on it, which couldn’t outstretch the time that the frantic CSU squad was working with. Similar to their Jan. 11 meeting, the Bulldogs found a way to get the best of the Rams and claimed their second-straight MW tournament crown.
When the game had only 35 seconds remaining, Newton finally came to terms with her team’s fate.
“I realized that we can keep making three’s but they’re just going to keep going to the free-throw line and things weren’t going to change,” she admitted.
With everything on the line, it was worth a shot. You’ll never know unless you try — which was exactly what AJ Newton did.
Collegian Sports Editor Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @QSickafoose.