Spartans Shock Top-Seeded Rams in Quarterfinals
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - In what San José State coach Jamie Craighead characterized in what she thought was the biggest win in the program's history, the eighth-seeded Spartans shocked No. 1 seed Colorado State, 64-55, in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Mountain West Women's Championships at the Thomas and Mack Center on Tuesday.
San José State (15-16) advances to play the winner of the UNLV-Boise State game, in Wednesday's 6 p.m. semifinal.
The normally offensive Spartans, who scored 99 points in their previous two games, showed their defensive prowess in slowing the pace to stifle the Rams (23-7) to just 29 percent from the field, on 20 of 69 shooting. Colorado State's 18.2 shooting percentage in the first half was a season low for field-goal percentage in a half.
"We won a different way than we normally win," said Craighead, whose Spartans won for just the third time this season when scoring less than 70 points. "It was a great defensive effort from my team when the offense wasn't clicking."
After shooting 36 of 83 (43.4 percent) in an opening round victory against Utah State on Monday, the Spartans shot a meager 36.6 percent (26 of 71) against Colorado State. After hitting just 9 of 35 (25.7) from the field in a quiet first half that saw San José State take a 25-18 lead into the locker room, the Spartans caught fire in the second half, hitting 17 of 36 (47.2) field goal attempts - including 5 of 11 45.5) from beyond the 3-point line.
"In the first half, we just kept telling ourselves, 'We'll win any way we can,'" said San José State senior guard Ta'Rea Cunnigan, who finished 17 points and five rebounds. "If it means it's going to be an all-defensive game, we'll take it. We were having a tough time in the first half with our shots falling. We didn't let that concern us, just focus on defense."
With the game tied 16-all with less than three minutes left in the half, the Spartans emerged from a crucial timeout and used three straight 3-pointers - two from Aniya Baker and one from Rebecca Woodberry - to seize momentum for the second half.
"They looked worried offensively," Craighead said. "We get worried because we rely on our offense. I said: 'Why are we worried? It's a tied basketball game, it's like we just tipped off.' We went on a run (and) when they saw the ball go down a few times at halftime they were all pumped up. They knew they had to play 20 more minutes."
After Colorado State scored the first five points of the second half, the Spartans found their offensive groove and went on runs of 14-10 and 25-17 to eventually take a 10-point lead. The Rams made a late run, with about six minutes left in the game, when guard AJ Newton buried two straight 3-pointers and Jamie Patrick followed with a trey of her own, cutting San José State's lead to 56-51.
The Spartans, however, responded by closing the game on an 8-4 run to secure the win and advance to the semifinals for the first time since joining the MW. The Spartans' 24 3-pointers in their first two MW Championship games is seven shy of the tournament record (31), set last year by Fresno State.
Baker led all scorers with 18 points, as she broke her career-high for field-goal attempts with 19. She also tied her career-high of field-goals made with seven, and tied her career-high with six rebounds. Woodberry, who finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds, recorded her fifth double-double this season and ninth of her career.
"Our main goal was the championship," Baker said. "We weren't stopping because they were the No. 1. We were playing together, hard and having fun."
Colorado State's Ellen Nystrom led the Rams with 13 points, while she also recorded a career-high and MW Tournament single-game record with 20 rebounds. It was her third double-double of the season and eighth of her career. Mountain West co-Player of the Year Gritt Ryder had 10 points and five rebounds for the Rams.
"We knew going into this basketball game that we were going to have to play well to beat them," Colorado State coach Ryun Williams said. "Their last two games they've scored 99 points, so they surely had our respect. They played well today, at both ends of the floor. It's just not a good day to have a bad day. We had a bad basketball game. Give San José State credit. They were good defensively. They played us like we would probably play ourselves, to be honest with you. "
San José State's victory marked the first time a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in MW Tournament play, while the Spartans improved to 3-0 on a neutral court.
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @AP_WG