FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The 2013-14 Colorado State women's basketball team did something that the program hadn't done since 2009: win its season opener. With a 87-82 overtime victory at Moby Arena over the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs, the new-look Rams gave the 1,733 fans in attendance a reason to be excited on Friday night.
"I give our kids a ton of credit for hanging in there," Head Coach Ryun Williams said. "The shooting barrage was incredible by UCCS. We didn't shoot it as well but our kids were pretty resilient and kept finding a way."
In her first game of her collegiate career, Ellen Nystrom looked anything like a true freshman registering her first career double-double with a team-leading 20 points and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes of action.
"She's a pretty good basketball player," Williams said of Nystrom. "Ellen made some plays down the stretch."
While Nystrom paced the Rams on offense, Colorado State showcased its versatility with six different players scoring in double figures on the night. Junior guard AJ Newton and sophomore guard Caitlin Duffy poured in 13 points, while senior forward Sam Martin and freshman guard Gritt Ryder scored 12 points each and freshman forward Elin Gustavsson added 10 points.
It marked the first time that Colorado State had at least five players reach double-digit scoring totals since the team did it against Air Force on Feb. 9, 2010.
While the Rams struggled to get into a groove on offense, shooting just 39 percent from the field and 17.9 percent from behind the arc, they made up for it by relentlessly attacking the glass. In the game, Colorado State out-rebounded UCCS 50-39 and had 22 offensive rebounds in the game. The 22 offensive rebounds are the most by a CSU team since Nov. 28, 2010 when the team also had 22 against Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
Duffy led the way for Colorado State on the glass with six offensive rebounds, and a career-high 10 total rebounds, to give her her first career double-double. It marked the first time since that Nov. 28, 2010 contest against Texas A&M Corpus Christi that the Rams had two players register double-doubles.
With all of the extra possessions generated from the offensive rebounds, Colorado State took 18 more shots in the game than UCCS and went to the free-throw line 34 times, which was key for propelling the Rams to victory.
CSU got off to a great start as it jumped out to a 20-8 lead over UCCS after just six minutes of action. The Mountain Lions stayed patient however and began to chip away at Colorado State's lead. By the 7:02 mark in the first half, UCCS had stormed all the way back to take its first lead of the game at 28-27.
For the final seven minutes of the first half, the two teams could not find any separation between each other as the Rams went into the locker room up 40-39.
"We quit making baskets and we made some mistakes defensively," Williams said. "We gave them 10 points at the foul line and I think we gave up double-digit points in fouling a jump shooter. The kids were playing hard but not smart, and we have to clean that up."
In the second half, the Rams looked to clean up their defensive mistakes and play smarter basketball, but the team couldn't find an answer for junior guard Abby Kirkhoff of UCCS. Kirkhoff finished the game with 24 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and was instrumental keeping the pressure on Colorado State.
Behind Kirkhoff's strong showing, UCCS had a 64-60 lead over CSU with under six minutes remaining in the game.
The Rams remained composed and went on an 11-3 run to take 71-67 lead with 1:43 left in the game. Down the stretch though, the Rams couldn't capitalize on their free throws as the team finished just 22-of-34 from the line and left the door open for UCCS.
That would be all that Kirkhoff would need as she drove the length of the court and layed the ball in with 10 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
In the extra period, the Rams once again looked like the dominant team that it had at the beginning of the game, and scored the first eight points of the period to take an 83-75 lead with 2:43 left in the game.
After consecutive baskets brought the game to within three points, Nystrom iced the game with two free throws as the Rams held on to win 87-82.
"The fact that we got challenged in an overtime game right now is huge because we have all these new players," Martin said. "We just have to come together as a team and I think it's good to get that experience."
Colorado State will next turn its attention to No. 19 Colorado which it will at Moby Arena on Tuesday night in a key rivalry game. The game is slated to begin at 7 p.m. MT.
"Our kids will surely compete, we know that," Williams said of the highly-anticipated game. "This is a great team coming in here, and our kids will be ready to compete against that competition.
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