COLORADO SPRINGS – Mission complete. At least for now.
No. 22 Colorado State (28-1, 18-0 MW) established itself even deeper in the school record books with an 81-48 trouncing of in-state rival Air Force on Friday night at Clune Arena.
With the win, the Rams become only the second team in school history and in Mountain West conference history to run through conference play unbeaten. CSU’s 28 wins also ties the MW single season record, set by Utah in 2007-2008. The Rams have won 25 consecutive games, the second longest active streak in the nation, trailing only UCONN.
“Holy cow, 18-0 is impressive,” head coach Ryun Williams said. “There’s a lot that goes into these five months. From travel, tough places to play, some nights you just don’t have it but you still have to find a way to win. I’m really proud of this group. This group is very, very special.”
But they are far from finished.
After clinching the outright conference regular season title for the third consecutive season on Tuesday, the Rams have earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and will get a first round bye before taking on the winner of Wyoming- San Diego State on Tuesday in a quarterfinal matchup. They will look to avenge a first round upset to San Jose State a year ago and win the MW tournament, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Pretty much the season is starting now,” Jamie Patrick said. “It does not matter that we went undefeated, if we lose one game we’re out. We know that from last season. We got to go into the tournament ready to play.”
Despite having just a single win on the season, Air Force certainly did not roll over for the Rams on their senior night. After CSU jumped out to a 9-0 start in the first 1:58 of the quarter, the Falcons used a Dee Bennett banked in 3-pointer and several dribble drive finishes from leading scorer Cortney Porter to play the Rams to a 16-16 tie after one quarter. CSU was bit by the turnover bug, surrendering possession five times and allowing the Falcons to shoot 46.2 percent from the floor.
However, things returned to normal in the second quarter. The Rams jumped out to a fast 7-0 run as Patrick scored 10 points and knocked down two 3-pointers while also playing all 20 minutes in the half. CSU outscored the Falcons 24-9 and held them to only 28.6 percent shooting. Meanwhile, CSU shot 64.3 percent for the quarter to take a 40-25 lead into halftime.
“We got off to a great start, 9-0,” Williams said. “We kind of got on our heels and relaxed a little bit and Air Force got really aggressive. Its senior day for them, they have a lot of emotion. They’re a team that really competes hard… Our second quarter was outstanding. I think they had two points until the last two minutes of that quarter.”
The Rams once again held Air Force to single-digit scoring in the third quarter, winning the period 21-9 while dishing out five assists on their eight made field goals.
As has been the case in many games this season, the fourth quarter was all-but-over and CSU cruised into the school and conference record books while allowing their starters a chance to rest and giving the reserves some additional experience.
Patrick was the top scorer, finishing with 21 points and five 3-pointers, giving her 80 total during the regular season. Ellen Nystrom added 13 points to go along with six assists and Elin Gustavsson scored 12.
Nystrom’s six assists gives her 103 for the season and puts her in the top five all-time in MW single-season history.
The Rams will have a bye in the first round of the MW tournament, and will play the winner of San Diego State-Wyoming in the quarterfinals on Tuesday at 1 pm in Las Vegas.
“What they want the most is right there in front of them,” Williams said. “We had a nice nonconference season, that’s season number one. Season number two was our Mountain West conference season. We finished that in style. Now season number three begins. All things are new for all teams, we are going to get in there with a fresh mentality and attack Vegas. This was a really nice finish to round two and we’re really excited for round three.”
Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley