Mar 212004
 
Authors: Joelle Milholm

A standing ovation awaited Joy Jenkins and Jasai Ferrucho as

they walked off the floor after playing Creighton in the first

round of the National Invitational Tournament Friday night, but the

1,386 fans at Moby Arena weren’t applauding a victory.

Instead, they paid their respects to the two seniors, who walked

off the court for the last time after CSU’s 79-68 season-ending

loss.

“I just think we did not play good and we got beat by a better

team,” said CSU head coach Chris Denker. “It felt like we were

fighting uphill the whole time.”

The game featured two teams with similar stories. Both had

decent seasons with more than 15 wins, both suffered early

departures from their conference tournaments and both wound up

playing in the tournament reserved for the best teams not to make

the NCAA Tournament field.

Creighton’s more experienced squad applied a pressure defense

that forced 20 Ram turnovers. The Bluejays four-guard offense also

consistently beat CSU off the dribble for open shots.

“They run their stuff pretty well,” said Creighton head coach

Jim Flanery. “They were bigger than us and beat us on the inside,

but they could not guard us on the perimeter.”

Creighton outscored CSU 32-26 in the paint but kept its lead by

draining nine 3-pointers. Five Bluejays reached double figures in

scoring, including Christy Nenemen with 16 points and Codi Walker

with 12 off the bench.

“We just had defensive breakdowns tonight and it is unfortunate

because it led to a lot of their baskets,” said Jenkins, who had

six points, two rebounds and two steals.

Ferrucho lead the Rams with 16 points and six assists, while

sophomores Lindsay Thomas and Vanessa Espinoza added 15 and 11

points, respectively. Freshman Kylee O’Dwyer scored a career-high

14 points off the bench, eight of which came from post moves in the

paint.

“You really saw the Kylee of the future, the kid that can score

in the paint and on the perimeter; she’s got a lot of tools,”

Denker said. “I think the world of Kylee and she stood out as a

leader out there, and, for a freshman, that is a special

trait.”

CSU tied the game at 30-30 late in the first half, but a late

Creighton run gave the Bluejays a 35-30 advantage at halftime.

Thomas put the Rams on the board first in the second half by

grabbing an offensive rebound and putting the ball in the basket.

Creighton then went on a seven-point run and the Rams never got

within four points for the remainder of the game.

The Rams finished their year with a 17-12 record in a

roller-coaster season that ended much sooner than expected.

“Every season teams go through highs and lows,” Jenkins said.

“We were high before our last two games and then we just could not

play our style of ball.”

Creighton will now enter the second round of the NIT with a 20-9

record.

For Jenkins and Ferrucho, who have been roommates and teammates

for four years, the cheering fans at Moby left them with a

bittersweet feeling.

“We love our fans and always will,” Jenkins said. “These fans

supported us our whole careers. People went out of their way and

waited in line on a Friday night just to shake our hands.”

As for leaving the gym for the last time as Rams, the seniors

had a hard time describing their emotions.

“I don’t think words can describe it,” Jenkins said. “It was

really hard.”

A teary-eyed Ferrucho agreed.

“It was really hard,” she said.

What lies ahead for next season?

The Rams will lose a lot of leadership and aggressiveness with

Jenkins’ departure and Ferrucho, who led the team in assists, will

leave a big vacancy at the guard position.

CSU has a lot of promise in its sophomore class of Espinoza,

Thomas and Melissa Dennett, all of who made the second or third

All-Mountain West Conference teams. The three all started for the

Rams this season.

Freshmen O’Dwyer and Annika Walseth showed glimpses of their

greatness this season as both proved to be valuable inside the

paint and at hitting 3-pointers. Fellow freshmen Sara Brown, Molly

Nohr and Marilyn Moulton had limited playing time this year and

will need to step up and prove themselves in their sophomore

seasons.

As one of the youngest teams in the nation, the Rams believe

they have a bright future.

“With only losing two players, I think you are going to see

improvement from age and maturity,” Denker said. “You are going to

see a lot of experience growing up and getting better. We are going

to work hard in the off-season and try and make the individuals

more well-rounded.”

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