A tale of two halves, indeed.
After a shaky opening 20 minutes, the Rams rode a smooth second-half to a dominating 72-35 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday.
In a game that leading scorer Ellen Nystrom struggled to find her shot, the Rams (11-5, 3-1 MW) received plenty of help from its secondary contributors. Four of the five starters reached double-digits, including a game-high 16 points from Elin Gustavsson. Sofie Tryggedsson converted four three-pointers on her way to 15 points and Hannah Tvrdy added 13 on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting.
Returning from injury, Stine Austgulen scored 10 points in a promising 37 minutes of action. Her return to the starting lineup gives the Rams another outside threat with experience.
“She was the MVP in my mind,” head coach Ryun Williams said. “Her brain was calm, it was steady, very poised. We needed that out there, especially in that first half. Stine is probably 70 percent, but it was neat to get her back out there and give her some run.”
For a team that averages just 13 turnovers per game, CSU’s 11 first half turnovers were a definite eyesore. They struggled to execute the offense that has worked all year long, leading to forced shots and sloppy basketball for the first 20 minutes of action.
Air Force’s Kailin Davis opened the game with two three-pointers and hit one more at the end of the first quarter to account for nine of her team’s 13 points. Kassady Huffman added six points in the second quarter to limit the Rams to a five-point halftime lead.
The turnaround began on the defensive end as the Rams upped the pressure of their zone defense and generated turnovers left and right.
“We really got active,” Williams said. “It allowed us to get out and run. We got some easier baskets when we turned them over. It was some really good defense for us.”
Despite a subpar offensive performance for her standards, Nystrom contributed on the defensive side of the ball with seven steals that lead to many of those easy baskets in transition. As a team, the Rams scored 28 points off 26 Falcon turnovers, an advantage they have grown accustomed to this season.
Per usual, that uptick in defensive pressure translated to the other end. The offense started flowing and the Rams opened up a sizable lead thanks to a 15-2 run to begin the second half. All in all, CSU outscored Air Force 44-12 in the final 20 minutes of play.
“We calmed down and showed a little bit of patience,” Williams said. “We made a good entry pass, made a really good first cut. We drove and made the right play. We’re either kicking for a three or driving for a layup or getting to the foul line.”
That is exactly where the Rams made a living offensively Saturday night. They outscored the Falcons 30-6 in the paint and generated twice as many points from the free throw line.
CSU now has a much-needed week of rest before traveling to Albuquerque on Saturday Jan. 14 to take on the New Mexico Lobos.
Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_