CSU’s historic season the product of selfless, instinctive play in Williams’ system

Emmett McCarthy

Practice is over. The Colorado State women’s basketball team is stretching before a brief film session.

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CSU head coach Ryun Williams talks to Alana Arias (left) and Jamie Patrick (right) during a win over Utah State. (Javon Harris/Collegian)

“You should write a story on this sweet jumpshot,” head coach Ryun Williams yells out before splashing a jumper from behind the arc in Moby Arena (and then another, just for good measure). 

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The Rams are in the midst of a historic season, which now includes a program-record 20-game win streak. Williams – now in his fourth year as head coach – has reshaped the program.

He knows how he wants his team to play, and the women have proven to be more than capable. They wear opponents out in transition, they defend fullcourt and they have enough depth to do it for the full 40 minutes. The roster is filled with players

“You change the way to play based on the strengths of your players,” Williams said. “That’s what we’ve done and this group has evolved into a really nice team.”

It has resulted in not just a lot of wins, but also an aesthetically pleasing style of basketball. The offense can run through the guards or the forwards. Players at every position can handle the ball and make the correct pass.

But according to Williams and the team, it is nothing too fancy.

“We don’t run many plays,” Williams said. “We’re a motion type of team. We play certain concepts is what we do.”

Despite being arguably the best shooter in the conference, Jamie Patrick frequently finds herself being left open behind the arc. But it is rarely the result of a set play.

You would think it would take some set plays to get an elite shooter such as Jamie Patrick open so regularly. But she said it is not really by design, and offered an explanation similar to Williams’.

“It’s just our motion,” Patrick said. “Our motion is either our pro-post motion, or (Keyora Wharry) in the pro or something like that, and it’s either down screen, invert, stag… it’s pretty much anything.”

According to Ellen Nystrom, the offensive looks the Rams get so frequently are the result of their defense and tempo. Because the team has ball handlers at every position, it is difficult for opposing teams to match up in transition. Shooters like Patrick get left open, and forwards occasionally run the floor unguarded.

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“We try to run first of all,” Ellen Nystrom said. “So, if we can run, we just try to run, and then we just go into our motion most of the time. It’s mostly coach who calls the plays.”

And they really do run opponents off of the court: CSU’s average margin of victory over the last six games is 25.7 points.

Williams is extremely vocal and often quite animated during games. But running a specific offensive set is rarely among the instructions he barks from the sideline.

“I think you see our kids playing instinctive motion basketball,” Williams said. “They play off of each other. We’re unpredictable.”

What is predictable, though, is the attendance at the games. Even as the the Rams cemented their spot in CSU history Wednesday, the student sections remained empty.

Maybe it’s a stretch to think students will show up to watch women’s basketball when they cannot even be bothered to support the men’s team – CSU ranks third-to-last in the Mountain West with an average attendance of 3,647 at men’s basketball games.

But, there’s really no excuse not to come watch a team that plays an exciting brand of basketball and has won 20 consecutive games. After all, attendance was not a problem for the Rams in the 1998-1999 season, when they were led by basketball legend Becky Hammon led CSU to a 33-3 record.

“I remember talking to Becky Hammon one time,” Patrick said, “and she said she filled the stands.”

It was Hammon and the 1998-1999 team that had held the winning-streak record prior to Wednesday.

“It’s awesome that we’re breaking it, because she’s such a legend and her team was a legend, so it’s really awesome to be compared to them,” Patrick said. “And if that is going to help increase our attendance, I hope we keep winning and we do that. I hope people start recognizing that and will come, especially the students.”

Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.