LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Colorado State powered through a late deficit Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center, earning a victory vs. No. 8-seeded Utah State, 72-67. The Rams will move on to the semifinal round Friday.
With the win CSU tied the most program wins since the 2001-02 campaign at 24. Utah State, which had won four games in a row, ended its inaugural season in the Mountain West with a 15-16 tally. This is the first time the Rams have advanced at the Mountain West tournament since the 2008-09 season.
After consistently being down margins of four and five points, Colorado State seemed to gain control with a four-point lead at the five-minute mark. But the Aggies would not back down, going on a 6-0 run and switching the lead to a three-point advantage in their favor with just 1:14 to go.
Then on a missed jumper from Ellen Nystrom, senior Sam Martin corralled the offensive rebound and scored on the put-back with a whistle from the referee. She converted, followed by a Utah State errant shot, giving Gritt Ryder the ball as the seconds ticked away. Freshman Ellie Gustavsson was aggressive down the stretch, repeating Martin’s and-one play, giving CSU the lead with 11 seconds to go. The Swedish native then got a crucial block on a three-point attempt, and teammate Nystrom finished the job with two free-throws to seal the victory.
“Ellie (Gustavsson) has made some big plays all year in crucial situations,” commented Head Coach Ryun Williams. “She just stays with it. She just keeps playing. That was the perfect example. Ellie is a really good driver. She saw her hole. It was a great finish. To make the free throw, that got us over the hump.”
Both teams struggled to find the basket early on, shooting below 30 percent at the midway point of the first stanza. The Rams employed an attack-the-basket strategy and found a lot of contact underneath the rim, which accounted for 12 made free throws, which kept them within reach at the halftime buzzer.
The Aggies controlled the rebounding effort sizably, with a 12-board advantage in the contest, including 14 on the offensive glass, but USU would only score three second-chance field goals.
Sam Martin opened the second frame with three shots from beyond the arc, but none would fall. Not wanting a repeat of her previous three years at the MW tournament, she went to work under the basket, with eight consecutive points for the Rams on four layup attempts. The senior tallied 15 on the day, shooting 6-of-7 inside the three-point line.
Gritt Ryder led the Rams from the foul line, with nine makes at the charity stripe, totaling a game-high 23 points on the day. She also created seven of Utah State’s 14 turnovers, drawing two charges and recording a career-high five steals.
AJ Newton and Ellen Nystrom also registered double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Alicia Nichols was a dominant presence on court, subbing in for the Rams forwards who were each encountered foul trouble early on. Her stat line doesn’t show it, but the senior fought for several loose balls, and got a crucial offensive rebound for the Rams late in the second stanza.
USU’s Jennifer Schlott recorded 17 of her 20 points in the first half. She was whistled for her fourth foul with 6:02 on the clock, but continued to play the remainder of the contest.
Colorado State will await the result of the No. 4 Boise State vs. No. 5 Wyoming matchup which begins at 3:30 p.m. MT. The Rams will enjoy two days of rest before Friday’s game vs. the winner. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. MT/12 p.m. PT.