A.J. Newton stepped up every time CSU’s women’s basketball team (17-5, 9-2 MW) needed her to Saturday night in its 55-43 win on the road over UNLV (8-13, 5-5 MW).
The senior guard carried her team through a poor shooting performance with a season-high 19 points, hitting several timely 3-pointers to pull the Rams through their 32 percent field goal percentage on the night.
Newton finished 5-of-11 from the field including 4-of-9 from 3-point range despite starting the game with three misses from behind the arc.
“Honestly, Coach (Williams) just looked at me and told me to keep shooting it,” Newton said. “It’s nice to know even after starting off the game 0-for-3 like that, he still trusts me to shoot it.”
For the second game in a row, shutting down their opponent’s leading scorer was key for the Rams, as they frustrated Mountain West leading scorer Danielle Miller into three offensive fouls. The senior guard averaging 19 points per contest heading into Saturday fouled out with 5:19 to play, then turned and jawed to an official to earn a technical foul that proved to be pivotal.
Newton said she could sense a technical foul coming for Miller.
“I knew it was coming, she was talking the whole game,” Newton said.
CSU point guard Gritt Ryder stepped up to the line to hit the two technical free throws, tying the game at 39, and on the next play, Ellen Nystrom made it to the line to hit one freebie that gave the Rams a lead they would hold onto for the win.
Miller finished with just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting. The Rams’ solid containment of Miller comes just after holding Wyoming standout guard Marquelle Dent down and fouling her out in their win Wednesday night.
“Defensively we were exceptional, we did a great job on Miller,” Williams said.
CSU had to shake off an incredibly inefficient first half for the win as they went into the locker room with only 18 points on the board, facing a five point deficit 23-18 after shooting 7-for-27 and turning over the ball nine times.
Williams credited the Rebels’ defense for flummoxing his team offensively, but admitted that the Rams could have worked the ball for better shots deeper in the possession clock.
“They were disruptive early in the possession, but we never played late in the possession to see if they were playing good defense or bad defense,” Williams said. “It was like one or two passes and then a quick shot.”
But the Rams surged offensively after the break, going on a 10-0 run initiated by a Newton 3-pointer to take their first lead of the second half with 15:56 to go 28-25.
More low-scoring stretches for both teams ensued, though, as Breanna Charles hit UNLV’s first field goal of the second half with 12:54 to play to cut CSU’s lead to just one, 28-27. From there, it was back and forth with neither team able to break away for a commanding lead until CSU got going after Miller’s technical.
Ryder hit a layup after Nystrom stroked her free throw to give CSU a three point lead 42-39 with 4:34 to play, and then the Rams fended off two Rebel buckets by getting to the line for four more free throws that maintained their three-point lead.
The defining moment came when Emilie Hesseldal found Nystrom on a backdoor cut for a layup to extend CSU’s lead to five 48-43 with 1:22 to play.
From there, the Rams sealed it with stalwart defense, preventing UNLV’s desperation 3-point attempts down the stretch from finding the net while going nearly perfect from the line. While the Rams have struggled from the charity stripe on the season, they were clutch Saturday night, going 16-19 from the line in the second half after not shooting a free throw in the first.
“We showed a great, great grit and resolve in that basketball game,” Williams said.
With the win, CSU remains in second place in the Mountain West behind Fresno State in the midst of its quest for a second consecutive regular season conference title.
The Rams’ next game is Wednesday at 7 p.m. against New Mexico in Albuquerque and will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.