LAS VEGAS – In a season filled with ups and downs, two big scoreless stretches proved to be the downs that finally put an end to the CSU Rams’ regular season.
Following a victory over the Wyoming Cowgirls in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals, the Ram offense stalled first out of the gate and again down the stretch against New Mexico in the semifinals, dooming a late CSU comeback in the Lobos’ 65-51 victory.
After a Jasai Ferrucho layup made the score 2-2 at 18:14 of the first half, the Rams hit a wall, failing to score again in the next 10:18 of play.
With 8:18 to play in the first half, the Rams found themselves – perhaps luckily – to be down 15-2, shooting one for 12 in that span, leading up to Katie Borton’s three-pointer that made it 15-5. While the Rams certainly weren’t on, the Lobos’ pressure defense deserved a lot of the credit for CSU’s drought.
“The first 10 minutes of the game was probably the best we’ve played defensively all year,” said UNM coach Don Flanagan, whose team went on to defeat BYU for the Mountain West crown Saturday afternoon. “CSU has a lot of offensive threats. We were disruptive all game, doubled down a lot and trapped when they threw the ball down low.”
In spite of their early struggles, the Rams trailed only by 12 at half, 27-15, and used a second half run to close the New Mexico lead to five, 52-47. It would, however, be as close as the Rams would come.
Another scoring drought over the next 4:28 left the Rams trailing 61-47 with under a minute to play, leaving the Rams defeated and confused.
“It was really frustrating, we couldn’t get our offense going,” said Shannon Strecker, the Rams’ senior center. “They played tough defense and were very aggressive. We always knew we could fight back and get back in the game, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
Adding to the Rams’ offensive struggles was the fact the Rams were in foul trouble from the get-go. Ashley Augspurger, the Rams’ leading scorer, went to the bench early with two quick fouls and fouled out of the game early in the second half after picking up a technical foul – her fifth personal foul – after waving her hand at an official following her fourth personal foul.
“It was tough to be a cheerleader that early in the game, but I just had to do everything I could for my team and help out from what I was seeing on the floor,” said Augpurger, who finished with three points on 1-for-8 shooting.
The foul trouble led to a big free-throw differential, as New Mexico made 22 of 36 from the charity stripe while CSU made nine of its 14 attempts.
The loss marked the second straight year the Rams have lost in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament by 14 points, having fallen to UNLV last year, 72-58.
CSU advanced to the semifinals on the strength of a thrilling, final-minute 59-56 win over the Wyoming Cowgirls Wednesday night. Despite a game-high 26 points from Wyoming senior forward Carrie Bacon, the Rams held on late after junior forward Joy Jenkins was fouled on a three-point attempt with six seconds left.
The Aurora, Colo., native made all three of her ensuing free throws to give the Rams their final margin of victory.