The most important factor in tonight’s WNIT quarterfinal match-up between the Missouri Tigers and CSU Rams might be similar to the three most important factors in real estate.
Location, location, location.
For the third straight game in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, CSU will host its competition; a fact that bodes well for the Rams’ chances.
The Rams have won 15 straight games at Moby Arena and have lost only once there this season.
“It’s just exciting to be able to play here again, not only for crowd and atmosphere, but because being on the road for those five weeks in December just killed us,” said CSU senior forward Ashley Augspurger. “As much as we’ve been on the road this year, it’s great to play at home.”
The Rams (20-12) and Tigers (17-13) face off with a WNIT semifinal berth on the line. The Rams haven’t been this far in the postseason since 2000, while the Tigers are making their deepest postseason run in program history.
The game will also be a homecoming for one of the Tigers’ best players. Evan Unrau, a Fort Collins native and Rocky Mountain High School alumna, leads Missouri in scoring (15.7) and rebounds (7.7).
A first-team all-Big 12 selection, Unrau is one of five Tiger starters who logs heavy minutes – all five average more than 35 minutes per game – something CSU head coach Chris Denker will be looking to exploit.
“Hopefully with the altitude and being on the road and with our depth off the bench, we’ll be able to have some advantages,” Denker said. “But even though they only play a small number of girls, those five they play, play exceptionally well together.”
The Rams have been playing exceptionally well of late, too.
In their two previous WNIT games, CSU has used tough defense and a balanced offense to key victories. Five Rams scored in double figures against Montana State in the opening round, while four reached 10 or more points against Wyoming in the second round.
“We just have to focus on us,” Ram senior forward Katie Borton said. “If we play our game and focus on starting everything with our defense, we’ll be fine.”
Though they’re now three games into the WNIT, the Rams are still feeling the pain of omission from the NCAA bracket, where two Mountain West schools – New Mexico and Utah – won their opening round games.
Utah lost to No. 1 Duke in round two, while New Mexico advanced to the Sweet 16. Don’t think the Rams don’t wish they were at the Big Dance.
“I don’t think that will ever wear off,” said Augspurger of the slighting. “It’s just something we have to prove now.”
In their continued effort to prove the NCAA selection committee wrong, Denker and his team are hoping for a big turnout to bolster another Ram home victory.
“If we could get another great turnout, maybe get a few students to come out to the game, it would help us not only to win this game, but to have a better chance at hosting the next game and possibly the championship,” Denker said.
“Obviously we need to take care of business one game at a time before we start talking about the next round, but a bigger crowd can only help us.”