Three women’s basketball teams within a half game of each other currently sit atop the Mountain West. Tied for first are Colorado State (18-6, 10-3 MW) and New Mexico (14-10, 10-3 MW), while Fresno State (17-6, 9-3 MW) trails by a mere half game, making Wednesday night’s showdown in Moby Arena between CSU and Fresno State inherently pivotal.
Simultaneously, Wednesday night, New Mexico will be at San Diego State. A Lobos’ loss will leave CSU alone in first, as long as the Rams avenge their loss to the Bulldogs earlier this season. An FSU win over the Rams will put the Bulldogs back up a half game over CSU.
With just five games remaining on both CSU’s and New Mexico’s schedules and six on Fresno State’s, Wednesday’s MW action could very well indicate which team will be on top at the regular season’s conclusion.
While Wednesday provides the Rams an opportunity to take control of their own destiny in their quest for that goal, head coach Ryun Williams said his team knows a MW championship isn’t necessarily required to achieve the larger objective: an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“That’s what our dream has been coming here,” senior guard Gritt Ryder said of receiving an NCAA berth.
The Mountain West has been a one-bid league for the Women’s NCAA Tournament for a number of years, and that bid automatically goes to the team that wins the post-season conference tournament in Las Vegas.
“It comes down to Vegas,” Williams said. “A conference championship, that would be great. It’s a goal for our kids, there’s no doubt about it. But there’s a bigger goal and that’s to get to the NCAA Tournament, and there’s only one way to do that, and that’s to win in Vegas.”
Last year, the Bulldogs robbed the Rams of an NCAA Tournament appearance by upsetting them in the final of the MW Tournament.
Last month, it looked as if the Rams were going to have their revenge as they held the Bulldogs to 24 percent shooting, and had the lead with under four minutes to go. But two clutch steals by FSU guard Raven Fox led to two fastbreak layups for the senior that swung the momentum in favor of the Bulldogs, who ended with a 53-49 victory.
“We still remember those losses and we want to win, but we also want to make a statement that we are the best team in the conference,” Ryder said.
A.J. Newton agreed with her teammate, saying her team senses how crucial this game is to the regular season’s final results.
“I think this one, we can feel the significance of it, and you can see it just looking at the standings,” Newton said. “I think we all understand the importance of it; it’s just time to do it.”
Plus, there is a bonus to finishing the regular season on a strong note that is helpful come tournament-time: momentum.
“These last five games, yeah they mean everything, obviously,” Williams stated. “You want to have nice momentum to finish out the year.”
Winning Wednesday would certainly be a good start to building momentum, and to do so the Rams need to do a better job of limiting their mistakes offensively against the Bulldogs. Last time, CSU turned it over 21 times, allowing 23 FSU points off turnovers.
“If you get a little loose with the basketball, they make you pay,” Williams stated. “They’re such an ornery bunch. Those guards are everywhere, they’re very, very tenacious.”
With the MW regular season championship hanging in reach of both these teams, expect to see maximum tenacity from both the Rams and Bulldogs Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
Mountain West Standings
1. Colorado State (18-6, 10-3 MW) 7. San Diego State (9-15, 6-7 MW)
1. New Mexico (14-10, 10-3 MW) 8. San Jose State (11-12, 5-7 MW)
3. Fresno State (17-6, 9-3 MW) 9. Nevada (7-16, 3-9 MW)
4. Boise State (16-7, 8-4 MW) 9. Utah State (6-18, 3-9 MW)
5. UNLV (10-13, 7-5 MW) 11. Air Force (2-23, 1-13 MW)
6. Wyoming (12-11, 7-6 MW)
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.