Friday night marks the final regular season game for the CSU women’s hoops team, with a crucial matchup against Utah State that the Rams must win to outright clinch a second consecutive Mountain West championship.
Senior guards A.J. Newton and Gritt Ryder will be honored for Senior Night in their last game of their two-year CSU careers in Moby Arena as they fight to become sole conference champions. The Rams guaranteed themselves at least a piece of the title Tuesday night with their win over Nevada. A CSU loss to the Aggies provides New Mexico a chance to creep into a tie with CSU for a share of the conference. The Lobos face Wyoming in Laramie during the CSU-USU showdown, and if they win while CSU loses, they will tie the Rams at 14-4 in the Mountain West.
Colorado State theoretically should win this one, though, as the Aggies sit at ninth in the conference with an 8-21 overall record and 5-12 conference mark. Still, the Aggies are more dangerous than their record shows, as they have given several of the top teams in the conference trouble. Here are three keys to a CSU victory:
Translate emotions into passionate play
This is the last time Ryder and Newton will don green and gold in Moby, and they will surely be pumped up and emotional. The pair has basically rebuilt CSU’s program together over the last two years with unwavering commitment to leadership on the court as co-floor generals, and brought two straight conference titles as a result. Their teammates have a chance to show some appreciation Friday night, and can share that emotion and get psyched for not only a chance at another outright championship, but also their last home game with these veterans. Head coach Ryun Williams has said several times this season that he’s desired more fervor at moments from this team, and the Rams have no excuse to not leave it all on the floor Friday night in their home finale. They should be extra tenacious defensively, get out on the break, get on the floor for hustle plays and play hard and fast to put on one last show for the Moby faithful this season.
Don’t underestimate the Aggies
Though they are regarded as one of the weaker teams in the conference this season, the Aggies are still tough to beat. When the Rams last met Utah State as an 8-seed in the quarterfinal round of the MW Tournament last year, it came down to the wire as CSU had to overcome a late deficit for a narrow 72-67 victory. And despite their current ninth-place standing, the Aggies have played all the top teams in the league tough this year, losing just 60-59 and 56-51 to second-place New Mexico, 70-64 to third-place Fresno State and 63-53 to fourth place Boise State. This is a team with absolutely nothing to lose, that would love to end its season with a bang by upsetting the team picked to win the conference and spoiling its outright title.
Utah State freshman guard Funda Nakkasoglu has emerged as the top candidate for Mountain West Freshman of the Year. In her first NCAA season out of Australia, Nakkasoglu has notched an impressive average of 16.9 points per game to go along with 4.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds. Her scoring average has bumped to 18.5 points per contest in conference play. But the Rams have had great success with shutting down their opponents’ best player this season with the ability to throw several defenders with varying length and quickness at anybody dangerous. Defensive specialist Victoria Wells can lock down nearly anybody, plus Keyora Wharry, Hanne Mestdagh and Ellen Nystrom are all intense, in-your-face defenders that can scrap and frustrate ball handlers. The Rams need to stick to what’s worked all season long: know the scouting report on Nakkasoglu and shut her down.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.