LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t pretty, but Colorado State didn’t need it to be.
Despite a brutal afternoon on the offensive end, No.22 CSU relied on its defense and a similarly abysmal offensive performance from San Diego State to knock off the Aztecs 53-41 in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West conference tournament Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Junior forward Elin Gustavsson was one of the lone bright spots for the Rams, scoring a game-high 21 points and pulling down seven rebounds. Gustavsson shot an impressive 8 of 14 from the floor, but the rest of the Colorado State team shot just 12 of 37 in one of CSU’s worst shooting performances of the season.
“I think it’s always hard playing the first game, because we wanted to win it so bad,” junior guard and Mountain West Player of the Year Ellen Nystrom said. “We really want to play the final right now. But we’ve just got to take it slow and get into the game and we got into the game as the game progressed and that was good.”
“And maybe we were so excited, and when you’re super excited it can go a little bit wrong,” Gustavsson added. “But I feel like we were still, like, excited in a good way, as Coach said, we had to calm down a little bit, which we did.”
Luckily for the Rams, San Diego State wasn’t any better, hitting just 13 of 49 shots (27 percent) on the afternoon, including just 2-for-12 from behind the arc.
CSU (29-1, 18-0 Mountain West) held SDSU’s leading scorer, McKynzie Fort, to just 10 points on 2 of 12 shooting, nearly five points below her season average.
(Photos Courtesy of NCAA)
“Well, the first game is always difficult, I think, as a 1 seed,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said. “I think you saw a group maybe a little tight early. But outstanding defensively, really an outstanding job. They’ve got three guards out there that are really good, really good when the ball is in our hands, playing off the ball screen. I thought our kids were exceptional keeping the basketball in front, really the whole game. Once we got it settled down in our mind and midway through the third and the fourth quarter, we started playing a little bit more like us.”
The Aztecs didn’t make it easy though, holding CSU to just 22 points in the first half, the Rams’ second-lowest first half total of the season. After cutting the CSU lead to just four going into the break, San Diego State scored the first points of the second half, bringing them with two. They stayed within striking distance for the rest of the third quarter, keeping the deficit with seven and even cutting it to three at two different junctures.
But CSU found a bit of rhythm in the final stanza though, using a 13-3 run to extend its lead to 13 with 4:08 to play. The Rams closed it out from there, never letting the Aztecs cut the deficit below double digits.
The Rams will now take on fifth-seeded New Mexico, who beat No. 4 seed San Jose State 65-51, in the Mountain West semifinals Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. MT.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.