Defense and discipline driving CSU women’s hoops

Christian Hedrick

Legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant once said, “Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships.” Bryant won more national titles than any coach in history and the Colorado State women’s basketball team hopes his winning philosophy reigns true on the hardwood as well.

Senior Guard Hannah Tvrdy plays defense on a forward during the fourth quarter against the Idaho Vandals on Nov. 10. The Rams fell to Vandals 83-69 during the home opener at Moby Arena. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

With the lowest points per game output of any side in league play, strong defense and discipline on both sides of the ball has kept the Rams (12-6, 4-3 Mountain West) within reach of their fifth consecutive Mountain West title.

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Although CSU’s 53.7 points per game is a full four points lower than 10th place Utah State, no team has conceded less points on average than the Rams’ 52.3 through seven league games. This tight margin of offensive and defensive efficiency has generated a number of uncomfortably close games, yet it has yielded the Rams a winning record and positioning in the top half of the conference standings.

When matching up against the Rams, opponents are generally met with a 2-3 defensive zone right out of the gates. Though this particular zone look encourages patient passing and perimeter shooting, the Rams often put added pressure on the perimeter, forcing opponents to jack up tough shots and make hurried passes.

The hard-nosed perimeter defense is a leading contributor to the Rams’ Mountain West-leading .342 opponent shooting percentage. The mark also ranks sixth out of 335 Division I programs. Less than one percentage point below the Rams sit Geno Auriemma’s undefeated UCONN Huskies, the consensus No. 1 ranked team in the nation.

Another key factor in the Rams’ elite field goal defense is not allowing the opposition a second chance on rebounds and looks from the paint. In the Mountain West, only New Mexico claims more defensive rebounds per game than CSU’s 28.4.

Leading CSU’s charge to the glass is an experienced bunch made up of senior Veronika Mirkovic and redshirt seniors Stine Austgulen and Hannah Tvrdy. In conference play, Tvrdy has collected an average of 5.1 defensive rebounds per game, while Mirkovic and Austgulen each average over four.

Scoring on CSU’s tight defense from the field and around the glass is already a tall task, but to make matters worse for the opposition, the Rams have not been handing out any free passes.

After turnovers and sloppy play crept into the Rams’ game in the non-conference portion of the season, CSU cleaned up the mistakes and now boast a 12.7 turnovers per game average. An average of 12.7 turnovers per game places the Rams atop the Mountain West and 20th nationally in the category.

The Rams’ discipline isn’t just limited to when they have the ball. CSU has kept opponents off the charity stripe and out of the bottom of the basket by committing an average of just 14.2 personal fouls per game. Only Wyoming has committed fewer turnovers per game in the Mountain West and both the Rams and Cowgirls are among the top 20 in the nation in said category.

CSU’s discipline and dynamic defense has kept them in the hunt for a fifth consecutive Mountain West title, despite their sluggish offensive numbers. If defense truly can win championships, the first indicator will be Saturday afternoon when CSU heads to Las Vegas to take on first place UNLV at 4 p.m. MT. 

Collegian sports reporter Christian Hedrick can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ChristianHCSU.

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