Colorado State forward Alana Arias was originally supposed to redshirt last year, which would have made this her junior season. Instead, she is in her senior campaign, and the rest of the teams in the Mountain West dodged the bullet of not having to defend her another year.
Twice this season, Arias has led the Rams in scoring and three times she’s led in rebounds. At San Diego State, she led in both, going for a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, a performance that earned her MW Women’s Basketball Player of the Week Jan. 18. And she’s done it all while coming off of the bench, making her the frontrunner for the MW Sixth Woman of the Year.
It was not that CSU coach Ryun Williams saw deficiencies in Arias’s game after she arrived on campus from two years of junior college ball at Palm Beach State. Rather, he saw what the 6-foot-4-inch center out of Porto Alegre, Brazil could one day become.
“She’s really young — that’s why we wanted to redshirt her last year,” Williams said. “She just turned 21, so she’s a young senior. She’s just a pup.”
When forward Emilie Hesseldal went down with an elbow injury last year against BYU just seven games into the season, though, it was time for Arias’s redshirt to come off. Williams and his staff thought the Rams could make a run for the MW regular season title, and he knew he needed a presence in the paint to do so. Arias provided that presence in Hesseldal’s absence, and did so valiantly, adding a true low-post threat to CSU’s offensive attack. She helped lead the Rams to the regular-season crown they sought.
This season, Arias has been an even bigger reason behind the Rams’ stellar start. With improved footwork on the block and a right-handed hook shot added to her game, CSU has been able to run the offense through Arias. Without her, the Rams’ 20-1 overall record and perfect 10-0 mark in the MW might look a little different.
“The biggest thing is her teammates have confidence in her now — they want to throw her the ball,” CSU assistant coach Tim Moser said. “They know good things happen when they throw it in there.”
Most of the time, she scores. Arias’s signature moves are that hook shot and facing up to the basket to release a jump shot right over the top of smaller defenders. While her current 50.3-percent field goal percentage is down from the 56.7 percent she finished shooting last season, that’s partly because Brazilian is much more aggressive. Already this season, Arias attempted more field goals (145) than all of last year (134).
Both she and Williams cite her individual work with Moser over the summer and before this season as the source of her more polished game.
“He’s made her,” Williams said of his assistant’s work with Arias.
Moser said he saw Arias’s high ceiling when he watched her play with her fellow countrywomen on the Brazilian National Team’s under-19 division in Lithuania.
“You could tell she had so much potential,” Moser said. “It’s too bad she’s not really a junior or sophomore, because that’s what she should be right now. She’s made herself into a really good player. She’s got offensive skills that are just natural.”
Arias cherishes her experience with the Brazilian National Team during the World Championships. She was coached by fellow Brazilian and former WNBA star Janeth Arcain, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last summer.
“When I got to play with the national team, it was a great way to carry over here what I learned with the best of the best,” Arias said.
And bringing even more international flavor to a CSU program featuring players from around the world is a point of pride for Arias, too. While eight different CSU players hail from either Sweden, Denmark, Romania or Norway, Arias represents an entire continent for CSU’s worldly roster.
“I thought it was pretty cool we had people that were not only American, and I also liked the fact that I was the only one from South America and Brazil, and all the rest were either from the U.S. or from Europe,” Arias said. “I felt I could add something. Combining everything together, I think it’s a great package deal.”
But sometimes she feels left out when her teammates speak to each other in their native Northern-European languages. Good thing for CSU assistant coach Rebecca Alvidrez, though, who is a Spanish speaker. Arias, whose native language is Portuguese, uses her time with Alvidrez to try to learn the similar Spanish language, while her teammates speak to each other in their own tongues.
“Coach A. is from New Mexico, so me and her, we speak in Spanish in practice, just because I like to be different,” Arias said. “We have people from Europe, and they can speak to each other, so we like to speak in Spanish to each other, just so people can’t understand us. We like to make fun sometimes.”
It makes practice an all-around educational experience.
“I get to learn Spanish in practice and, of course, learn basketball in practice,” Arias joked.
With the Rams’ win on the road Saturday night at Nevada, they extended their winning streak to 17 games, the second-longest in school history. If CSU can keep its MW record perfect through eight more games, it will capture a third consecutive regular-season conference title, and Arias will deserve a lot of the credit.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.