Grace Colaivalu continued her prolific redshirt freshman season for CSU women’s basketball with a career-high 29 points, highlighted by a go-ahead layup with 1.6 ticks remaining to send the visiting Rams to a 65-63 victory over San Diego State on Wednesday night.
Coming off a convincing conference victory over San Jose State, the Rams carried the poise on both sides of the ball into the first game of 2018. On SDSU’s initial possessions, CSU’s 2-3 defensive zone gave the Aztecs fits, allowing the Rams and Colaivalu to find an early offensive rhythm.
Colaivalu put up eight points and went 3-for-3 from the field to help build the Rams a 13-5 advantage at the game’s first timeout.
“We came out with really good energy, mainly offensively. Got some really good drives to the basket and some threes in transition,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said in a statement.
Despite carrying virtually all of the early momentum on offense and defense, the Aztecs came out of the early break firing on all cylinders. With SDSU’s first 3-pointer of the game, guard Geena Gomez sparked a 15-2 SDSU run to close out the quarter and put the home team in front 20-15.
“It just seemed like we lost some wind and really just got fatigued there midway through that first half and let them go on a run,” Williams said.
While Colaivalu sat on the bench to begin the second quarter, the Aztecs continued to roll from the field and extended their lead to 13. After going over seven minutes without a field goal, the Rams were finally able to cut into the double-digit deficit when Veronika Mirkovic cashed in from the paint. Mirkovic finished the night one point shy of her season high with eight.
For the reminder of the half, the Rams regained their defensive prowess, holding the Aztecs to just one field goal in the final four minutes. While SDSU struggled to convert against the stout CSU defense, Colaivalu made it a one-possession game with her 15th point of the half just seconds before the break.
Despite the strong end to the half, the Rams found themselves in another offensive slump coming out of the break. Pre-season All-Mountain West selection Mckynzie Fort helped put the Aztecs back up 10 points, before CSU guard Hannah Tvrdy notched the Rams’ first points of the half at the three-minute mark.
Both the Aztecs and Rams shot under 30 percent in the third quarter, but consistency from Colaivalu on the boards and from the field cut the Aztec lead to just four heading into the final 10 minutes.
After another slow start to the quarter offensively, Tvrdy led the Rams in the final frame with her first 3-pointer in as many attempts. The redshirt senior went 3-for-3 from deep in the fourth quarter and finished the night with 16 points.
With six minutes to go, Tvrdy knocked down the Rams’ first go-ahead points since the first quarter and the Rams never fell behind the rest of the night. The Aztecs, however, would not go down without a fight on their home court and the sharp-shooting Gomez sunk back-to-back threes to tie the game at 59 with three minutes left.
“That’s the road. Teams are going to go on a run,” Williams said. “You just have to keep punching, keep fighting. Eventually the best team is going to come out on top.”
After Colaivalu put the Rams back in front by two with her 27th point, Fort had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line, but could only sink one. On the ensuing possession, Colaivalu lost her fourth turnover of the game and a Sofie Tryggedssen foul sent Fort back to the charity stripe.
Now with less than nine seconds remaining and a chance to take the lead, Fort once again only converted one of her attempts, setting up the Rams with the ball and the score tied at 63.
After the Aztecs burned their fifth team foul to prevent a Tryggedssen layup, Stine Austgulen inbounded to Colaivalu from the baseline for a driving layup and the redshirt freshman scooped in her career-high 29th point with Fort draped all over her and 1.6 seconds on the clock.
Naje Murray had one last look for the Aztecs as time expired, but Tryggedssen came up with the block to erase any hope of a miraculous buzzer-beater.
The Rams will look for their third straight Mountain West win when they head to Fresno State on Saturday at 3 p.m. MT.
Collegian sports reporter Christian Hedrick can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChristianHCSU.