For the fourth consecutive year, the Colorado State women’s basketball team will begin the Mountain West Tournament comfortably in the stands.
The Rams secured sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the tournament with a victory at San Diego State on Feb. 25. Now they begin the daunting task of running through their MW competitors for a second NCAA Tournament berth in as many years. The Rams realize, however, that they can’t get ahead of themselves in tournament play.
“We know for sure that you can’t talk about winning the tournament,” senior Elin Gustavsson said. “You can just talk about, are we gonna win the first game, are we gonna win the second game? We know that it takes a different type of mentality to go into the tournament.”
With the No. 1 seed comes a first round bye and a matchup against the winner of San Jose State vs. San Diego State, two teams the Rams are very familiar with. Despite going 4-0 against the pair during regular season play, both teams bring something to the table that can mitigate any weaknesses they may have: a dynamic scorer.
Dezz Ramos of San Jose State leads the conference in scoring by a large margin at a clip of 23.3 points per game. That average is also good for fourth in the nation. The Aztecs’ McKynzie Fort averages 15.8 point per game, trailing only Ramos. Both players have proven their ability to score the basketball against the Rams this season.
Ramos’ 34 points against Colorado State during their first matchup on Jan. 4 mark the most points scored by a single player against the Rams this season. This was just one of eight games she scored more than 30 points this year. Ellen Nystrom nearly matched Ramos with 32 points of her own as the Rams completed the comeback effort to defeat the Spartans in overtime.
In the second of two meetings against San Diego State, Fort was the only Aztec to score more than five points. She tallied 15 points, accounting for 33 percent of the Aztecs’ scoring in a blowout loss to the Rams.
As basketball has proven before, any team can win regardless of seeding. That is something this Rams squad is keeping in mind entering tournament play.
“We have to work hard, all of us, we need to stick together as a team,” Gustavsson said. “People are gonna go in hard and play hard. So it doesn’t matter if it’s seed 1 or seed 8, everyone is gonna be good.”
The conference schedule for the Rams featured some up and down basketball compared to a perfect conference record a season ago. In just their second game in conference play, the Rams lost to Boise State in Fort Collins to snap a 22-game home winning streak.
They then rattled off a nine-game winning streak that featured wins over three of the four teams seeded behind them in conference standings. After a loss at Utah State, the Rams won five of their final six games in close fashion to round out the year.
Head coach Ryun Williams realized the importance of playing competitive games down the stretch to prepare for the MW Tournament and beyond.
“That’s kinda some March Madness basketball, that’s how it is late season,” Williams said following the seven-point victory over Wyoming on Feb. 15. “You’re gonna have these close contests, and I thought our kids handled it really well. Winning is not easy…and everybody is going to play with the most energy, the most enthusiasm, and you’re probably gonna get their best performance.”
Colorado State celebrated its fourth straight MW regular season title and the illustrious careers of Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom with a win over Nevada last Friday night. In the midst of all the commotion, Gustavsson reiterated the Rams’ focus moving forward.
“As coach said, we kinda treated this like the first round of the tournament,” Gustavsson said. “So we need to stay aggressive and be in the same type of mentality that we have right now. Even though we’re happy and we’re gonna celebrate it and everything, we are ready for the tournament.”
The Rams will play their first tournament game on Tuesday March 7 at 1 p.m. MT against the winner of San Jose State against San Diego State.
Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_