The Colorado State women’s basketball team has won four consecutive regular season conference championships, but postseason victories have eluded a Rams team that has seen more success over the last four years than any other four-year period in program history.
Following a semifinal loss to the eventual Mountain West Tournament champions, the Boise State Broncos last week, an emotional Ellen Nystrom explained that losing in the conference tournament hurt the most because she was not sure if she would ever be able to play with Elin Gustavsson again.
“I feel like that loss against Boise State made me realize that this could really be it,” Gustavsson said. “I said after that game that I love playing basketball and love playing with my team, so if I get a chance to play with them one more time, I’ll take it.”
The senior duo would ultimately get that chance Thursday night in the WNIT and would not spoil the opportunity, defeating St. Mary’s University in overtime 80-68 in to earn the program’s first postseason victory since 2003.
“I think you saw in the latter two minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, that this building and these fans are the reason we won this basketball game,” head coach Ryun Williams said after the game. “We were scraping, clawing and trying to find something to give us just a little bit more energy, a little bit more of a boost, and our fans were just outstanding.”
The Gaels came out red hot from the floor, jumping out to an early 11 point lead (24-13) through the first quarter. St. Mary’s cooled off exponentially in the second though, failing to record a field goal until the 2:34 mark and totalling just four second quarter points.
Junior guard Carly Turner carried the Gaels throughout this one, scoring a team-high 19 points and making 3-of-5 attempts from beyond the arc. Sydney Raggio was the only other Gaels player to finish in double-digits, totalling 14 points and securing 12 rebounds for a double-double.
Continuing a trend that was common in Las Vegas, the Rams were once again led by senior forward, Elin Gustavsson, who played a big part in the Rams comeback effort.
Gustavsson opened the contest on fire, starting 3-of-3 from the field and recording the team’s first eight points of the night. The Angelholm, Sweden native would carry the green and gold from start to finish, ending the first half with 15 of the team’s 27 points points and totalling 28 points in 45 minutes.
“We are having so much fun right now,” Gustavsson said. “We know that we wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament, but you need to accept reality and then just go 100 percent in this tournament.”
Sophomore guard Sofie Tryggedsson finished in double-digits as well, scoring 18 points and making three 3-point attempts in the game.
After not recording a field goal through the first two quarters of play, Nystrom opened the third quarter by making a mid-range jump shot and scored 12 points in the final half and overtime period. The the two-time Mountain West Player of the Year had a quiet night overall, but showed up during the crunch time.
“I like the winning plays we made late in the fourth quarter and in the overtime (period),” Williams said. “We just finally gained enough traction offensively to beat, (what) I think is a really good St. Mary’s team. It was a tough matchup for us…but I thought we battled all night long. I’m glad we won the way we did because that is how this team has done it all year long. When somebody gives us a crack, we are going to get through it.”
Subsequently defeating the Gaels, the Rams will advance to the second round to host the winner of Utah vs. UC-Davis (Friday, 6:00 PM) this Sunday at 2:00 PM.
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.