Rams advance to championship game after triple-OT thriller

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – In a tough battle that saw 61 foul calls, and eight players foul out, Colorado State’s reserves came up big late in the Rams’ win over Wyoming in the season’s third installment of the Border War Friday, 95-92 in a triple-overtime victory in the Reese’s Mountain West Championship semifinals.
The win is the 25th on the year for the Rams (25-6), who advance to the MW championship game for the first time since 2001, the last time CSU won the MW tournament title. Wyoming will wait for an at-large postseason berth next, with a 20-11 record.
“Great college basketball game,” commented Head Coach Ryun Williams. “I just think you saw two teams that didn't want to lose. There was obviously added intensity when it's a rival game. The Border War knows no boundaries or borders, obviously.”
After Wyoming tied the game with five seconds or less at the end of regulation, the first overtime period and the second, CSU was finally able to pull away just enough in the third overtime period. After a trey from Wyoming’s Kaitlyn Mileto, Hanne Mestdagh, who had just checked in for the final two minutes, was fouled with 4.2 seconds on the clock and proceeded to shoot the first free throws of her career. She made both. The Cowgirls got a three-point shot off with 1 second remaining, but this time it wouldn’t fall.
Turnovers were a problem early in the contest for CSU. The Rams committed seven with just under seven minutes to play in the first stanza. The team regained control for the close of the half, increasing its lead to 12 at the buzzer, but ran into trouble again early in the second with four turnovers in just two minutes, allowing Wyoming to close the gap to just four points on a 7-0 run. From there, it was a battle and UW tied the game on two free-throws from Mileto with 4 seconds to go in regulation.
The Rams, who lost Newton to foul trouble with 41 seconds left in regulation, were in real danger of losing four more players, who each had four fouls at the beginning of the first extra period. Ellen Nystrom and Caitlin Duffy would also foul out, calling upAlicia Nichols and Hayley Thompson from the bench. Thompson took some time off the Cowgirls’ shot clock with a hustle-move trying to corral a steal. The Rams got the stop they needed, but Sam Martin, fouled on the ensuing possession, made just one of her two free-throw attempts. Wyoming tied the game again with 3.3 seconds to go, sending the game into double overtime.
After exchanging one- and two-point leads, Colorado State created some separation on some key defensive stops from Hayley Thompson. Wyoming refused to quit, however, tying the game again on a layup with 2 seconds left in the second overtime period.
After missing their first six attempts from deep, AJ Newton was the first Ram to sink a shot from beyond the arc toward the end of the first frame, sparking an 8-0 run. Wyoming didn’t hit a single field goal for the final 8:52 of the first half. The Cowgirls shot just 18.5 percent through the first 20 minutes of play, but converted 8-of-10 shots from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Then, in the second stanza, both teams struggled from the field as neither squad could find the basket for nearly a 5-minute stretch as the seconds ticked off the clock in the final minutes of the regulation.
Newton was the first of five Rams to reach double figures on a big three-pointer with 8:49 to play. She tallied 14 points on the day before fouling out for the first time this season with 41.7 seconds to go in regulation.
Gritt Ryder along with Sam Martin were the only two starters to not foul out, each playing over 45 minutes in the contest. Ryder scored a game-high 23, Elin Gustavsson had 18, Ellen Nystrom recorded 16 and Martin had 13. Martin and Nystrom each had double-doubles with 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively.
Senior Alicia Nichols was a dominant force on the glass, with three big offensive rebounds leading to crucial second-chance points for the Rams down the stretch. She finished the game with eight rebounds and seven points.
“That’s the big strength of this basketball team is its poise, its composure,” added Williams. “They go out and they compete. They find a way. I feel silly that we say that after almost every close win. That's what this group is all about. I think they do trust each other. That brings a poise and a calm to that huddle.”
Colorado State will play No. 2 Fresno State tomorrow in the final. The championship game is set for 7 p.m. MT Saturday, and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.