#MWMadness: No. 22 Colorado State Women Win Mountain West Tournament Title, 55-54
By W.G. Ramirez
Associated Press and Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - Colorado State held two leads in the Mountain West Tournament championship game on Friday: the first and the last.
The 22nd-ranked Rams opened the game with a 3-0 lead, but fell behind by 15 midway through the third quarter. Finally after chipping away at Fresno State's lead, and outscoring the Bulldogs 16-7 in the fourth quarter, Ellen Nystrom hit two free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining to lift Colorado State to a 55-54 victory over the Bulldogs.
"I just wanted to win the game, honestly; (missing) wasn't never in my mind," Nystrom said. "We knew they wanted to foul, they had fouls to give. I wanted to get a shot up so I could get free throws."
On the game's final sequence over the last 11.4 seconds, Fresno State committed three fouls in a row to waste time and force the Rams to readjust before taking their final shot. Finally, after Nystrom took the inbounds pass and was fouled by Brittany Aikens, she proceeded to hit the game-winning free throws.
The Rams (31-1) earned the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, while the Bulldogs (22-11) get the league's automatic spot in the WNIT.
Colorado State was led by Stine Austgulen, who scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line. The Rams also got 10 points from Keyora Wharry and Elin Gustavsson, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
"What our team did doesn't surprise me," Colorado State coach Ryun Williams said. "You don't win 30 games by laying down and folding. So the resiliency that our group showed. I couldn't be more happy for a basketball team.
"These kids worked so hard to get to this spot. And they've wanted it so bad. And when you're supposed to do something, I think one of the tougher things to do in all of sports is to do what you're supposed to do, and these kids did that. So I love my basketball team. "
Down by 10 early in the fourth quarter, Colorado State responded with a pair of 3-pointers by Jamie Patrick and Austgulen to cut the lead to 49-45. Fresno State's Moriah Faulk answered with a driving layup, but Wharry followed with a rainbow over the league's defensive player of the year, Bego Faz Davalos, and a layup moments later to get the Rams within two. They had a chance to tie the game or take the lead after a Fresno State turnover, but couldn't convert, and Bulldogs guard Shauqunna Collins drained a 3-pointer to push the lead back to five.
Fresno State, which missed six of its last eight shots, committed four crucial turnovers over the last five minutes of the game. It was reminiscent of the Bulldogs' semifinal win, which saw them squander a 20-point lead to UNLV thanks to some crucial mistakes.
"I thought Colorado State had a little more of an urgency down the stretch," Fresno State coach Jaime White said. "We did turn the ball over. There were some scrambling for the ball at half court ... just loose ball stuff that I didn't think we were as tight as we needed to be with the ball."
Colorado State had a chance to take the lead five times, trailing by one over the last few minutes, but Emilie Hesseldal missed a jumper on one possession and Wharry stepped on the baseline on another. On the same possession, Wharry missed a short jumper and Hesseldal's put back rolled around the rim, but wouldn't fall.
"We kept our poise," Wharry said. "We kept playing. We stuck to the game plan and just kept moving."
The first half was all Bulldogs, as they were the team playing with poise.
Fresno State took advantage of Colorado State's early shooting woes in the first quarter and led 19-16. The Rams missed their first seven shots in the second quarter and ended up behind 36-22 at the half.
Alex Furr led the Bulldogs with 12 points, while Breanne Knishka and Faulk each had 11.
"I thought our kids did the game plan to a T," White said. "They did everything we asked. We bothered Wharry ... I thought we did a really good job on her. Nystrom's only points were the free throws. We did what we had to do to win. I really think games are going to be like that. Two teams playing a championship game, it's going to be like that. I just wish we were on the other side."
Colorado State: The Rams were seeded No. 1 in the tournament for a third consecutive season, and were playing with a sense of urgency after being ousted in earlier rounds the last two years. "We're 48-6 in our regular season games the last three years and we've yet to get to an NCAA Tournament," Williams said earlier this week, knowing his team likely needed to win the conference tournament if it wanted to advance this year.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs' 36-24 halftime lead was the largest halftime deficit for Colorado State this season. Also, coming into the game, 18 of Fresno State's 21 wins had come when holding teams to less than 60 points.
Colorado State advances to the NCAA Tournament.
Fresno State gets the league's WNIT berth.
RECORD SETTER - While Nystrom's only points came from her game-winning free throws, she set a new Mountain West Championship record for assists in a game with 16, which was also a career-high for her.
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM - Joining Gustavsson on the all-tournament team was Nystrom, Fresno State's Faz Davalos and Toni Smith and New Mexico's Khadijah Shumpert.
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez