This is it.
The rematch Colorado State women’s hoops team has been waiting for since last April’s upset in the championship round of the Mountain West Tournament by the Fresno State Bulldogs has arrived.
On Saturday, the Rams will have their opportunity for revenge in Fresno when they play the Bulldogs.
“We remember how it felt last year — how horrible it felt — so for me it will for sure be a revenge game even though we are a different team now,” CSU guard Gritt Ryder said. “I think we need to get the newcomers on board with that.”
But the stakes of this showdown between CSU (15-4, 7-1 MW) and Fresno State (16-3, 8-0 MW) are high not only for the revenge factor, but for this year’s outcome of the Mountain West Conference as well. Fresno State and CSU are locked in a tight race as the current leader and runner-up of the league, respectively. CSU’s one loss in the conference came to third-place Boise State, which they avenged Wednesday night, ensuring that every other team in the MW has three or more conference losses.
According to head coach Ryun Williams, the Rams’ narrow victory over Boise State earlier this week will serve as continued momentum for his team as they ride a seven-game win streak into Fresno.
“I think our kids found out how tough they can be and how well they can play (against Boise State),” Williams expressed. “46 second-half points against a really good Boise State team—that was impressive. So they should have found a new level of belief, and understand that we’ve got a pretty good basketball team when we play like that. Let’s just be more consistent with it.”
The Rams definitely need some confidence to overcome the Bulldogs on their home court at the Save Mart Center, where they are 10-0 on the season. In fact, the Bulldogs haven’t lost since Dec. 6 when they lost to No. 24 George Washington.
“We’ll play in much more hostile environments, they just play well there in the Save Mart Center,” Williams explained about the away venue. “They can put some good players on the floor, that’s the bottom line.”
One such player is Bego Faz Davalos, a redshirt freshman out of Monterrey, Mexico. The 6-foot-3-inch center has swatted 42 shots since conference play began for an average of 5.25 blocks per game.
“She changes the game around the rim,” Williams said of Faz Davalos. “She’s extremely long and runs the floor really well.”
Williams thinks working around Faz Davalos’ intimidating inside presence will be key for the Rams.
“It’s important we do the right things against her, drag her away from the basket a little bit,” Williams said.
Pressure defense is one of Fresno State’s trademarks, as the Bulldogs average 12.5 steals per game, necessitating solid ball handling from the Rams for a CSU victory. Quick runs setup by causing turnovers for fast break points have been essential to FSU’s success so far this season. Ryder said slowing down on offense and making sure her team gets good shots will be crucial.
“We need to (play) calm, calm ourselves down,” Ryder said. “They’re a team that likes to get going with pressure, and if we let them do that we will probably lose the game. We just need to handle the ball.”
Another Bulldog CSU must focus on is Alex Sheedy, who leads her team in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per game in Mountain West play. The senior forward from Australia possesses several weapons, making her dangerous from both the inside and outside. Sheedy shoots the three at a 34.5 percent clip and also grabs an average of 5.9 rebounds per game.
Williams said shutting Sheedy down will be a priority for CSU defensively.
“She’s been a really good player in our league for long time,” Williams said of Sheedy. “So versatile, shoots the three, good inside, good playmaker and is as smart a player as maybe there is in the league. When she has a big game, Fresno has a big game.”
With such a big impact on the final results in the Mountain West regular season, plus the desire to settle the score from last season’s tournament championship, you can be sure both teams badly want this one.
“I don’t want to fly home with a loss,” Ryder finished.
Tip-off in Fresno is slated for 3 p.m. MT. The game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network at csurams.com/videos.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.