CSU women’s basketball coach Chris Denker has said it all along: This season is a marathon, not a sprint.
The final leg of the 2003 regular season begins tonight at Moby Arena when the Rams host the Wyoming Cowgirls. The game opens a three-game homestand for the Rams that will determine their seeding — and their momentum – for the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Regardless of what kind of race is being run, several teams in the Mountain West are clumped in the middle of the pack, but all remain in the, well, running for a high seed.
“There’s about five teams that could all finish anywhere from second to sixth in conference,” head coach Chris Denker said. “It’s a pretty crazy race right now, but us being at home is a definite key. We have to take advantage of that situation.”
The Rams stand at 5-6 in conference play — alone in sixth position, but only a half game behind UNLV (5-5) for fifth and one game behind Wyoming (6-5) for fourth.
The race is wide open, but the road is still difficult. Though it’s playing at home, CSU will face three opponents that defeated the Rams on their home courts earlier this year.
“We need to take it one game at a time cause there’s no way we can overlook any one team,” said senior center Shannon Strecker. “The three that are coming in here all beat us, so we can’t say, ‘Just because we’re playing at home we’re going to win.’ It doesn’t happen that way.”
CSU does boast an impressive home-court advantage. The Rams are tied for the second-best home record in the conference at 11-1, compared to 3-10 on the road.
“We need confidence going into the conference tournament and I don’t think there’s anything better than getting to play these last three at home,” said senior forward Katie Borton. “We always play well here.”
The Rams will need to play a physical style of basketball to defeat the Cowgirls, who always come out aggressive. Such was the case on Feb. 1 in Laramie, when the Rams weren’t able to match Wyoming’s intensity and physical play in a 69-64 overtime loss.
“They were as physical as anybody we’ve faced,” Denker said. “They pushed us around a lot and our shots were poor and nobody was rebounding. They were killing us on the boards.”
Rebounding has been a problem for the Rams, who have only won the battle of the boards once in their last seven games.
“I don’t think you can run any more rebounding drills than we’ve run this week,” Denker said.
Strecker, who fouled out of the Rams’ first meeting with the Cowgirls, will be a key if CSU is to hang with Wyoming’s physical style of play. Strecker leads the Rams with an average of 5.2 rebounds per game.
“We saw in tape of the New Mexico game that nobody was crashing the boards, so we’ve made it a focus in practice all week,” Strecker said. “We have to continue to make a concerted effort to go to the boards and be physical.”
Another key will be stopping Wyoming guard Ashley Elliot. The sophomore lit up the Rams in Laramie, leading all players with 24 points, including four three-pointers.
“She was one of the players we just couldn’t find last time in our zone defense,” Borton said. “She did a great job up there and we’re going to have to stop her to win the game.”