#MWMadness: Colorado State Earns Fifth Straight Double-Digit Win, Advances to Final
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - Leave no doubt.
That seems to be the ongoing mentality for the 22nd-ranked and top-seeded Colorado State Rams, who are looking to add a tournament title to their third consecutive regular-season league championship.
In registering their fifth straight victory by a double-digit margin, the Rams continued their dominating run through the 2016 Mountain West Women's Basketball Championship Wednesday night, with a 60-42 victory over No. 5 New Mexico in a semifinal clash.
"I thought defensively, again, we were outstanding," said Colorado State coach Ryun Williams, whose team defeated San Diego State 53-41 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. "We had some nice individual performances. I think you saw our kids settle into the tournament a little better tonight."
Elin Gustavsson led the Rams with 18 points, as she hit 7-of-9 from the field, while Keyora Wharry added 15 points and Jamie Patrick scored 12.
The win puts the Rams in Friday's championship game at Noon, when they'll face the winner of Wednesday's late game between second-seeded Fresno State and sixth-seeded UNLV.
It marks the 12th time the No. 1 seed has advanced to the championship game.
The Rams, who had been upset in the opening round of the tournament each of the last two seasons, are now 5-3 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
They've won their last five games by an average margin of 18.8 points, with their last single-digit win being a one-point victory at New Mexico.
Wednesday, however, was much different, as they wasted no time with the Lobos, who were trying to advance to the championship game for the second straight season. New Mexico lost to Boise State in the 2015 title game.
"We had a really hard-fought battle the first time we played them, and I think our kids knew that," said Williams, whose Rams held an opponent to less than 50 points 16 times this season. "I really liked how we came focused, I thought really well prepared. The execution was much better tonight. Really good team win against a New Mexico team that we respect the heck out of."
Williams said because his team has a target on its back, he feels it has learned over last three weeks that it has to play tougher and execute better, because the Rams are getting everybody's best shot.
"This is the time of year you want to be playing really good basketball," Williams said. "And although it's not always going to be the prettiest of basketball, it's March. It's a battle out there."
Clinging to a slim 17-16 lead, the Rams used a 14-2 run to close the first half and extend their lead to 31-18. Colorado State shot 52 percent from the field (13-of-25), going 12 of 17 from inside the 3-point line during the first half.
As focused as the Rams appeared to be, Wharry said they didn't underestimate the Lobos and expected a tight game from the opening tip.
"We definitely didn't doubt them," said Wharry, who led the Rams in scoring with 15 points the first time the teams met. "We don't doubt any of our opponents, we know at any given moment anyone could come in and play as well as us, make any shot and we could be on our toes. So we definitely don't doubt any of our opponents."
The Lobos, however, struggled once Colorado State got going, and managed to hit just 7-of-28 (25 percent) from the floor. Their only run was ignited by a 4-for-9 hot streak, but the Lobos opened the game 2-of-9 from the floor and closed it hitting only 1-of-10.
At one point, Colorado State's physical defense held the Lobos scoreless for a span of 5:22.
"They ran the table the entire year, and you've got to give them a lot of credit," New Mexico coach Yvonne Sanchez said. "I think now that it's tournament time, they know if they don't win they're not in (the NCAA Tournament)."
The 18-point victory marked the second-largest margin of victory for the Rams in the tournament.
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez