Late surge leads to victory for CSU in opening round of the WNIT

Luke Zahlmann

Colorado State women’s basketball found its groove late as the Western Illinois zone took a back seat to a perfect shooting run late to carry the Rams to a 67-64 victory in the opening round of the WNIT.

The Leathernecks came into the game with an engrained philosophy of shooting from outside and forcing turnovers by way of steals on the defensive end. On the year, they ranked 10th in the nation in steals per game.

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girls hug on a basketball court
CSU Women’s basketball celebrates their win in the WNIT against Western Illinois. (Sarah Ehrlich | Collegian)

Making a point of limiting the visitor’s leading-scorer, the Rams held opposing senior guard Emily Clemens, a near 20-point a game scorer, to only a pair in the first quarter. Despite the efficiency against their opposition’s leader, the Rams came out of the first trailing 17-15 following a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Taylor Higginbotham to give the Leathernecks their first lead of the game.

The momentum swing created late by the Leathernecks’ run continued into the second quarter as the Rams’ deficit increased with a 10-0 run coming out of the break. The smaller visitors instituted a zone defense that gave the Rams fits. The scheme produced six steals in the first half alone and forced a total of 11 turnovers.

A stagnant offense all year was further hindered by the Leathernecks as the Rams went into the locker room with only 25 points, trailing 32-25. Leading the way for the Rams offensively was freshman Lore Devos with eight. After the best scoring output by a freshman in an opener in CSU women’s history, Devos struggled to find the floor for much of the year but was given free reign in every postseason matchup for the Rams.

“In that first quarter we realized they were converting four or five back,” coach Ryun Williams said. “So you’re gonna fast break into what? Nothing but a mess. Really, we want Sofie (Tryggedsson) with the ball in her hands against that zone and maybe not as comfortable when we push it. That was just the tempo the game required today.”

The conference tournament hangover temporarily subsided coming out of the locker room for the Rams as they began the second half on a 6-0 run forcing the Leathernecks to take an early timeout. The run was sparked by dominance down low from junior Annie Brady who registered all six points and a block.

Unfortunately for the Rams, their penetration of the Leathernecks stifling defense was short-lived as they proceeded their run with a scoreless streak that peaked at just over four minutes. The drought allowed the Leathernecks to once again gain the upper-hand, keeping a steady lead throughout the third.

A late run of defense for the commonly limiting Rams gave the hosts life going into the final quarter as they limited the Leathernecks to a mere four points in the final half of the third quarter. Top 10 in the nation in opposing field-goal percentage this year, the Rams flexed their defensive muscles for much of the game, leaving the high-scoring visitors searching for answers.

In a game of opposing runs, the Rams waited to put their foot on the gas pedal until the final quarter. After trailing for most of the game, the Rams’ offense ignited late, hitting six field goals in a row and turning a game-long deficit into a lead in one fell swoop.

Keying the late run for the Rams was Devos who saved one of her best games of the year for the postseason. She far and away led the Rams in attempts from the field with 19 as the offense almost exclusively ran through the freshman who tallied 19 points.

“Lore is just really good at keeping her dribble and keep(s) trying to find her shot,” Tryggedsson said. “She’s so calm when she takes the shot, so we’re confident and we trust her when she gets it down (low) so we try to get it to her.”

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The late acceleration for the hosts gave the Moby Arena faithful added life and served as a catalyst for the improbable Rams comeback.

“At this point in the season, we’ll take every other game we can get,” Brady said. “We’re just gonna keep working, one game at a time.”

The Rams will head to South Dakota, coach Williams’ alma mater, for their second-round matchup against the University of South Dakota at noon on Sunday. After what appeared to be their final game, the Rams’ seniors will continue their spree of extra basketball.

Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.