Video by Sam Lounsberry
Once again, a season bringing a Mountain West Championship for CSU women’s hoops team ended with a first round loss in the WNIT as the Rams fell to Northern Colorado 53-48 Thursday night at Moby Arena.
It was the same story as last season, when CSU lost to Southern Utah in the opening round of the WNIT after being upset in the MW Tournament. After coming up short in the MW Tournament in Las Vegas last week and missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid, the Rams came out and failed to play their best basketball in the first round of the WNIT.
“Well that wasn’t fun,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said. “Tonight we just didn’t play our best basketball game, but this group did a heck of a job, they had a tremendous season.”
Though they got off to a great start — a 6-0 run out of the gate while holding the Bears scoreless for the first four minutes — the Rams just made the wrong plays at the wrong times throughout the contest and allowed UNC to capitalize on their mistakes. CSU turned it over an uncharacteristically high 17 times, allowing UNC 10 points off turnovers.
“This time of year we have to make basketball plays and we surely didn’t make enough tonight,” Williams said. “17 turnovers in post-season play where every possession matters, you’re going to find yourself on the wrong end of things.”
It was an ugly first half until the frame’s final seven minutes. The score was a low 7-5 with CSU leading after 10 minutes with both teams combining for 4-of-24 shooting from the field.
But Alana Arias got CSU going with a turnaround jump shot in the post. The Brazilian proceeded to hit two more of the same shots on CSU’s next two possessions to keep the Rams up 16-15.
Senior guard A.J. Newton appeared to be heating up to carry the Rams on run to close the half when she hit a deep 3-pointer from about 28 feet, but UNC’s Kyleigh Hiser answered with a trey that was just as deep to tie the game at 23. Newton responded with another bomb from almost the same spot, and then received a handoff from Victoria Wells for a floater from the baseline to put the Rams up five, 28-23. But UNC’s Lindsay Mallon hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the half to close CSU’s lead to two, 28-26, at the break.
The second half began well for the Rams as they rattled off a 10-0 run to go up 12, 38-26, with 16:21 left. First, senior guard Gritt Ryder found a cutting Ellen Nystrom for two, and then threw a nice dish to Elin Gustavsson under the bucket. After Nystrom came down and stroked a three, it looked like CSU women’s hoops team would be moving on in the WNIT for a moment as the Bears had yet to score in the second.
“We just got into a rhythm,” Newton said of her team’s second half run.
But when they finally got going, the Bears were strong. Standout UNC forward D’Shara Strange made it to the line a couple times to spark the Bears’ side of the scoreboard in the second, and then Kourteney Zadina hit huge back-to-back 3-pointers for UNC, cutting CSU’s lead to just three, 41-38.
“We knew they were shooters and could shoot the ball well, but since they weren’t getting them in the first, maybe we just got complacent,” Newton said.
From there, it was a battle, and the Rams simply looked shaken and too panicked to make the right play calmly. Katie Longwell scored a layup to cut CSU’s lead down to 41-40, then an Arias layup kept the Rams afloat, but not for long as Longwell returned with a clutch trey to tie the game at 46 with 4:22 remaining.
“You could see that, that unsettledness that we have had,” Williams said. “When you want something I think they strangle it a little bit, and I think they strangled the opportunity.”
The Bears hit two more layups to go up 50-46. Newton made it interesting by hitting a layup to make it a one possession game, 50-48, with 43 seconds to go, but Strange showed she was simply the best player on the floor Thursday night by coming down and making a perfect read off a pick-and-roll, finding Lindsay Mallon for a layup with 16 seconds left to seal the deal.
“We knew they had great shooters and of course Strange is a really good player,” Ryder said.
Strange finished with a game-high 14 points on 3-for-9 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds. Newton led the Rams with 11 while Ryder notched just three points, but dished 10 assists. Arias was the only other CSU player in double figures with 10 points.
“It’s just a bummer, we have had so much to celebrate over the past two years, but in the last two years you end on this crappy feeling, it’s tough, but that’s also part of athletics. It’s tough to win that last game” Williams said.
With the win, UNC advances to the second round of the WNIT to play South Dakota, which beat Creighton Thursday night.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.