Feb 222004
 
Authors: Josh Pilkington

Now is the time basketball teams across the nation hope all

their hard work leads to a unified group capable of making a run at

a conference title; now is the time hopes hinge on all the pieces

fitting together; now is crunch time; and for the CSU women’s

basketball team, now it’s all coming together.

In their fifth win in six games, the Rams (14-9, 6-5 Mountain

West) dismantled the Rebels of Nevada-Las Vegas (18-5, 7-3)

Saturday night at Moby Arena in a 79-65 win, which puts them in

fourth place in the conference standings with two games to

play.

CSU shot 50 percent from the field (28-for-56), forced a

season-high 24 turnovers and held the Rebels’ talented perimeter

shooters to a 0-for-11 performance from 3-point territory.

“We didn’t have much of a game plan,” said center Lindsay

Thomas, who was one of five Rams in double figures with 14 points.

“We just wanted to go after it early and ‘D’ it up.”

Defense was the key to CSU’s early lead as the team jumped out

to a 40-22 halftime advantage while forcing 16 first-half

turnovers. The Rams used those turnovers to their advantage,

turning them into scoring opportunities. Guard Vanessa Espinoza had

the hot hand early and the Rams looked to the sophomore to use

it.

“I just felt comfortable out there,” said Espinoza, who had a

team-high 22 points, 14 in the first half. “I owe it all to my

teammates. They found me when I was open and were able to get me

the ball.”

With an 18-point lead at halftime, the Rams seemed in control at

the start of the second half, but a full-court UNLV press coupled

with lackadaisical defense by CSU allowed the Rebels to jump back

into the game.

Five minutes into the second half, UNLV center RanDee Henry, who

scored a team-high 16 points, scored a three-point play and CSU’s

momentum began slipping away; then CSU’s slew of talented freshmen

stepped up.

Freshman Annika Walseth drained a big 3-pointer (her only bucket

of the night) to restore order, put the lead back to 53-36 and

bring the crowd of 1,833 to its feet.

“It’s huge to have freshmen stepping up and making big plays

like that,” said head coach Chris Denker. “Our freshmen are making

big plays for us both offensively and defensively.”

Indeed CSU’s two top freshmen, Walseth and O’Dwyer, combined for

15 points and five rebounds while keeping UNLV’s touted frontcourt

of Henry and Sherry McCracklin at bay.

Turnovers, rebounding failures and an extended scoring drought

allowed UNLV to cut away at the Rams lead, getting as close as

68-59 with less than four minutes to play.

Senior Joy Jenkins quashed any hopes of a Rebel rally with a 3

to put the Rams up 71-59 with 2:15 to go; the Rams’ lead did not go

below double digits the rest of the game.

“We’re fighters,” Espinoza said. “We never got down, we never

gave up.”

The Rams will take that fighter mentality into their game

against Wyoming Friday at Moby and to New Mexico’s Pit in the last

conference game of the regular season on March 6.

“We’re excited to get Wyoming, we’ve got to prepare for that,”

Espinoza said.

Her backcourt mate, senior Jasai Ferrucho, added, “Personally

I’m excited about playing at The Pit, it will be my last game

there.”

With the team coming together, Ferrucho’s last game may not come

for a while.

The good: CSU’s backcourt of Vanessa Espinoza and Jasai Ferrucho

combined for 35 points on 11-of-19 shooting, 14 assists and six

steals.

The bad: Little went wrong for CSU, but UNLV had several easy

baskets during a second-half comeback.

The Ugly: 24 turnovers and 0-for-11 3-point shooting are enough

to make any Rebel want to run.

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