The CSU women’s basketball team saved their best basketball for the right time of the season.
In dominating the visiting UNLV Rebels, 74-36, the Rams won their fifth game in their last six contests and improved to 7-6 in conference, 16-11 overall.
With the win, the Rams now move into a temporary tie for third place in the Mountain West Conference with UNLV and Wyoming at 7-6. BYU and New Mexico, who will both play Thursday night, stand slightly ahead of the pack at 7-5.
Utah is virtually a lock for the top seed in the conference, having lost only one game in league. But entering the final game of play in league season, no team is hotter than CSU.
“If we can close out this homestretch on Friday with a win on senior night, we’d finish with the best record in the second half of conference (6-1),” said Head Coach Chris Denker. “It’s been great to have these last three at home.”
After leading by nine at halftime, the Rams played solid basketball on both ends of the court in the second, outscoring UNLV 45-16 and holding the Rebels to a meager 20.8 percent shooting in the half and 27.7 percent for the game.
The performance was a far cry from the last meeting between the two teams, when UNLV scorched the Rams for 90 points and shot well over 70 percent in the second half. Then again, that was a different Ram team.
“Offensively, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Denker said. “To go along with that, our defensive intensity and rebounding have gotten much better. All in all, we’re a much improved team.”
Defense was a huge part of the Rams’ victory Wednesday, in particular senior Katie Borton’s defensive job on UNLV’s star shooting guard Constance Jinks.
Jinks, an All-America candidate who had been averaging 20.8 points per game, was held to 11 points on 5-19 shooting performance, including 0-7 from three-point range and 1-5 from the free throw line.
“Everywhere (Jinks) tried to go, Katie was right there,” said senior forward Ashley Augspurger. “We did a good job as a team jumping out on her and getting a hand up to go along with how well Katie was playing her. She just never found her rhythm.”
UNLV Head Coach Regina Miller agreed the Rams did an excellent job shutting down Jinks, utilizing a man-to-man defense the Rebels didn’t see last time the teams met.
“They played her straight man instead of the diamond and one they showed at our place,” Miller said. “That’s what I’d do if I was trying to guard her. They shut (Jinks) down and really no one besides Sherry McCracklin was able to step up for us.”
The Rams, on the other hand, had several performers step up offensively, led by Augspurger’s game-high 20 points, marking the second consecutive 20-point performance for the Lakewood native.
Also starring for the Rams were senior Katie Borton and junior reserve Joy Jenkins, who each totaled 10 points. In all, nine of the eleven Rams that played scored a point and all but one pulled down a rebound.
“We had great balance offensively,” Denker said. “We were cutting to the basket and scoring or getting fouled, which put a lot of pressure on them to respond.”
The Rams have one regular season game remaining, a home contest with San Diego State Friday night. “Senior Night” ceremonies will take place before the contest, which should tip at approximately 7:13 p.m.