For the CSU women’s basketball team, it was the most important sprained ankle of the season.
When Liz English, the Rams’ veteran floor leader, rolled her already-injured left ankle early in the second half of Sunday’s battle with Stephen F. Austin, many in the building gasped, and with right reason. English hobbled around the three-point line in obvious pain.
With the Rams in possession, English was trying, wanting to do something to help the Ram offense – setting picks, looking for an open player – but her body seemed to refuse the task.
Then, with the shot clock winding down and the ball in her hands, English apparently lost her memory.
With 13:38 to play, the senior forgot she was hurt. Forgot the complexities of the Rams’ new motion offense. Forgot she had missed her two previous three-point attempts on the day.
From easily three feet behind the three-point arch, English squared herself, elevated just enough and sent the ball soaring on target for the hoop.
The sweet sound of a swish was all that followed.
The play didn’t start an amazing offensive run. It didn’t catapult the Rams to another level on the playing floor. Rather, it was a refreshing glimpse of Ram basketball
of old; of a team running on instinct.
The Rams’ best long-range shooters – English, Ashley Augspurger, Katie Borton, Joy Jenkins, et al – are at their best when they feel the shot and take it, not when they think about it.
“I just launched it,” English said, giving an answer that seemed as effortless as the shot itself.
Simply put, it was the kind of play the Rams haven’t seen much of in this young season. It was instinct taking over.
Even though the Rams are 5-1 and their only loss came in the closing seconds against USC, they’ve had trouble getting in the flow of head coach Chris Denker’s motion offense.
Where set plays used to determine who would get the open look, Ram players are now reliant on the unspoken symbiosis a motion offense demands. Players have to KNOW what other players like to do, know where they like the ball, know who’s going to cut backdoor.
For the most part, the Rams have been wary of bombing away and wanting to stay in the system, wanting to work for a better shot.
But on Sunday, you could see the instincts return. You could feel Ram basketball coming back.
Five different Rams made three-pointers against the Ladyjacks, and most of those shots didn’t involve much thinking or hesitation. It was the equivalent of the old baseball saying “rock and fire.” Don’t think, just shoot.
Denker noticed the difference as well.
“What impressed me was not how they executed on offense, but how they were able to freelance off what we wanted them to do,” he said. “We tell them, ‘Don’t be on railroad tracks in this offense.’ Tonight we saw some good signs.”
There were also signs the Rams are far from perfect. They allowed too many backdoor passes, didn’t run on the Ladyjacks as much as they could have and are still in need of more offensive production from their bench.
But while there are still kinks to be worked out, things are progressing. They’re starting to find their groove.
So maybe it was a sprained ankle that ended up giving them a lift. Maybe the Rams finally clicked within their offense. Maybe they watched “The Sandlot” a couple extra times last week.
“You think too much,” Benny said to Smalls. “You’ve got to stop thinking. Just have fun.”
Whatever the reason, the Rams did a lot less thinking and a lot more playing on Sunday. My instinct tells me that’s a good thing.