With 14:07 to play in the second-round WNIT game with the Wyoming Cowgirls on Sunday, CSU head coach Chris Denker called a timeout and drew a line in the sand.
Just when it appeared the Rams were ready to put the game in cruise control, the Cowgirls ran off a 17-3 outburst that tied the game, 39-39.
“I basically said, ‘You have to decide, either take control back or let them take it over,'” Denker said. “I was real proud of how they responded.”
In fact, their response couldn’t have been much better. The Rams answered with a 12-0 run of their own out of the timeout, effectively dashing the Cowgirls’ hopes of an upset and willing the Rams to an eventual 73-64 victory.
“We all just knew we had to step up,” senior center Shannon Strecker said. “We all knew what we needed to do, starting on the defensive end, and translating that into an offensive spurt.”
The win puts CSU in the WNIT quarterfinals against either Ball State or Missouri, who face off tonight at Missouri. WNIT officials said an announcement would be made following that game regarding where and when the quarterfinals would be played.
Facing Wyoming for the fourth time this season, the Rams came out determined to feed Strecker.
The Rams’ star post performer dominated the early going, scoring the Rams’ first four field goals en route to 14 first-half points and 16 for the game.
“It was to the point where she was scoring whenever she wanted to early on,” said Katie Borton, another of the Rams’ five seniors. “Even though she didn’t score as much in the second (half), she was a factor in this game throughout.”
Strecker’s was just one of several key offensive performances for the Rams. Reserve forward Joy Jenkins led CSU with 18 points, while seniors Borton and Ashley Augspurger chalked up 14 and 13 points, respectively.
When the Cowgirls came out in the second half keying on Strecker down low, the Rams’ three-point shooters found they had more room to roam.
Held to 1-of-6 shooting in the first half from downtown, the Rams connected on five of their nine attempts after the break.
“When they started double-teaming me on the block, it gave our shooters more room and we were able to make a lot of threes,” Strecker said.
When the Rams’ shooting wasn’t hurting the Cowgirls, Wyoming was hurting itself. Turnovers played a huge part in CSU’s first half lead, as Wyoming committed 15 turnovers to CSU’s four.
“When you give a team 15 turnovers out of 33 possessions, even if that team is playing outstanding defense, that’s still too many,” said Wyoming coach Cindy Fisher. “We cut that number in half, it probably comes down to another nail-biter between these two teams.”
Fisher was referring to the Rams’ last-second 59-56 win in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament. In that game, Ram junior Joy Jenkins hit three free throws with less than six seconds to play to break a tie game and send the Cowgirls home.
Wyoming’s Carrie Bacon, one of seven Cowgirl seniors, ended her career with a bang, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.