Wednesday brings Colorado State’s women’s basketball team this year’s final regular season road game at San Jose State, with a Mountain West championship on the line.
CSU (20-6, 12-3 MW) cannot afford a loss to the Spartans, (11-14, 5-9 MW) as they hold a narrow one-game lead over New Mexico (15-11, 11-4 MW) for a first place conference standing with only three games remaining on the schedule.
Though the Rams easily handled the Spartans with a 77-59 win when they came to Fort Collins last month, a change in venue to the Event Center at San Jose State University transforms them into a much more dangerous team. The Spartans hold an 8-3 record at home, where they notched a signature conference win earlier in the season against Fresno State, handing the Bulldogs their first MW loss of the year.
SJSU’s streaky 3-point shooting tends to improve in consistency at the Event Center, allowing its strategy of pushing the pace with quick shots and full-court defensive pressure to force opponents into trying to outscore its high-octane offense. The Spartans rank No. 13 in the nation, scoring 78.0 points per game and eighth nationally in steals at 11.6 per game.
But the Spartans’ frenzied full-court defense is certainly far from impenetrable, as they give up 77.8 points per game, ranking them near the bottom of Division I teams at 340th. When SJSU came to Moby Arena, CSU guards A.J. Newton and Gritt Ryder sliced and diced its press, creating easy looks for teammates with a high yet controlled tempo.
Junior guard Jamie Patrick expects the same phenomenon against SJSU’s defense Wednesday.
“We all rely on (Newton and Ryder), and we have faith in them to bring it up the court, and I think when they press us it’s gonna make them a little bit scattered and it’s going to give us wide open shots, which Gritt and A.J. find us on,” Patrick said.
According to Patrick, while SJSU aims for a frantic pace, the Rams run the fastbreak more efficiently.
“I think we all like to run, and it’s fun, but I think we as a team do it more under control than they do,” Patrick said.
Last season, the Rams went to San Jose and lost right around this point in the season, but that was after they had already clinched the MW regular season championship. According to CSU head coach Ryun Williams, the Rams’ attitude toward their battle with the Spartans will be different this time around.
“We should be a lot more ready going into this game than we were last year,” Williams said. “We still have a lot on the line right now, so our urgency level should be sky high.”
A CSU loss Wednesday night will throw the Rams back into a tie with New Mexico for first place in the MW, as well as provide Fresno State a chance to creep into a share of the conference title as the Bulldogs currently trail New Mexico by half a game. The Rams are fully aware how crucial beating SJSU Wednesday is to maintaining their outright hold of the conference title.
“We know they’re obviously a good team, and we’re still fighting for our first place in the conference and every game is important to us,” Patrick said. “Being at their place is going to be a very tough game. We’re ready for the challenge, though.”
Williams desires his team stays tuned up for the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, which is partly what necessitates a win.
“It’s important to just keep playing well, whether you’re on the road or you’re at home, and keep playing with that level of execution and intensity and toughness,” Williams said. “It’s important we don’t take a step backward.”
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. MST. The game will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network as well as on the radio on 1410 KIIX.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.