A three-game winning streak began for CSU women’s hoops team Saturday afternoon when the Rams crushed in-state rival Air Force 62-42 at home in Moby Arena after beating Wyoming Wednesday and New Mexico a week ago.
CSU (11-4, 3-1 MW) overcame a shaky start as the game’s heavy favorites over the struggling Falcons (1-14, 0-4 MW). The Rams went scoreless for the opening 5:52, allowing AF to start with a 5-0 lead. AJ Newton, who played her first long stretches of minutes since returning from a knee injury, scooped a shot in from the lane after getting fouled for the and-one to finally put the Rams on the board.
CSU head coach Ryun Williams took advantage of his team’s depth, resting Victoria Wells and point guard Gritt Ryder. Williams experimented with different lineups, working Newton in for 31 minutes. Additionally, Hanne Mestdagh received her first start of the season.
“I’m like ‘Hallelujah,’ I’m so happy,” Newton said of returning for big minutes. “It was nice in a game like tonight to go out there and just run around and make sure I trust my knee, and adjust to how the team is playing, and them adjust to me coming back.”
Newton finished with seven points on 3-7 shooting along with three rebounds and an assist.
“She’s not at full speed yet, but she played a really good basketball game,” Williams said of Newton. “I thought her floor game was really good.”
Despite Newton’s solid return at the point guard position, there was still some clear confusion offensively for the Rams without Ryder as floor general. In addition to not scoring for nearly six minutes to start the game, the Rams had nine first half turnovers. Coming into Saturday, CSU averaged only 12 turnovers per game.
“I don’t know what to blame (the slow start) on,” Williams claimed. “Yeah, we played a lot of different lineups, started some different kids in different spots, but it doesn’t matter.”
“We’ve got to be better offensively,” Williams finished.
But the Rams cleaned it up after their initial struggles, playing especially well on the defensive end as they held Air Force to its own scoreless streak of seven minutes to close the half. Ellen Nystrom capped off a 15-0 CSU run to close the first frame with two buckets with under a minute remaining. Nystrom hit a pull-up jumper from the right elbow followed by a deep three at the buzzer on a feed from Elin Gustavsson, building a 12-point Ram lead at 30-18.
The second half opened with CSU’s Alana Arias finishing a post move through a foul. The Rams quickly increased their lead to 19, but some stretches of poor shooting allowed the Falcons to make it just a 12-point game at times.
CSU finished shooting only 39 percent, 22-57 from the field overall and a rough 4-19 from three point range.
“We struggled offensively,” Newton admitted. “I think that’s been kind of an issue for us all year, but we’ve had people come and go. Now that we’re becoming our full team I think the offensive issues will begin to disappear.”
The Rams recaptured a commanding lead, though, by punishing the smaller Falcons inside for baskets. Forward Elin Gustavsson finished 11 points and eight rebounds, notching her fourth game in a row of double-digit scoring.
CSU travels to Nevada Wednesday to take on the Wolfpack at 6:30 p.m. Nevada is 2-1 in the Mountain West, while CSU’s 3-1 record puts them in second place behind 4-0 Fresno State.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lousberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.