Everything was looking perfect for CSU women’s basketball through its first sixty minutes of play at the Coors Rocky Mountain Invitational.
Unfortunately, the final twenty minutes ruined the weekend.
After winning their first round game Friday at Moby Arena against Idaho, the Rams gave up a 14-point halftime lead in a 64-60 loss to Western Carolina on Saturday.
The loss dropped the Rams to 2-3 on the season. Western Carolina improved to 3-3 in claiming the tournament championship.
CSU owned the pace in the first half, out-rebounding the Lady Catamounts 21-11. Second-chance points also favored the Rams heavily, 9-2 in the first period.
But after the whistle blew to start the second half, everything changed. Western Carolina pulled ahead at 51-50 and picked up almost every loose ball from that point forward.
“Hustle plays made the difference,” said Head Coach Jen Warden. “We controlled the game when we made them and they controlled the game when they made them.”
Western Carolina was led by junior Ashley Pellom with 16 points. Fellow junior Monique Dawson added 14 points and three steals for the Lady Catamounts and was also named the tournament MVP.
Freshman Kelly Jo Mullaney led the Rams with 16 points. Senior Molly Nohr had 13 points and seven rebounds in the loss.
“At half we were feeling really good about the game,” said Mullaney, who was also named to the all-tournament team. “In the second half our legs started to go and our energy started to drop. We have to forget about the first half and focus on what we have to do in the second.”
The youth of the Rams reared its head against Western Carolina, as the team turned the ball over 16 times and allowed junior Chevon Keith to pull down back-to-back offensive rebounds in the final minutes of the game with the Lady Catamounts up by three.
Western Carolina killed off a minute on the clock and junior Sara Hunter was forced to foul, ending the Rams’ hopes of a comeback win.
Warden said it was a simple lack of intensity in the second half meltdown.
“Who isn’t going to come out spitting fire in the second half?” she said of the visitors. “We have to be able to respond to that. That intensity has to continue for us to have success.”
CSU sharp-shooter Sara Hunter was held to just eight points on three-of-13 shooting.
Earlier in the weekend on Friday night, the Rams picked up their second win of the season with an 88-68 victory over Idaho.
The Rams stormed out to an early lead on the visiting Vandals, posting an early 20-7 edge. Idaho was able to stay alive in the first half, trailing by ten at halftime, but the home team kept their lead throughout the second half.
CSU was led by the dominant play from three of its guards. Hunter finished with a game-high 24 points, while Nohr and Mullaney each scored 21.
For Nohr, it was her first career double-double, as she also recorded 10 rebounds. The senior also had a game-high six assists.
Idaho was led by junior Sara Dennehy with 20 points. Freshmen Katie Madison had a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Vandals, who dropped to 1-3 after losing to Weber State in the CRMI consolation game.
Despite the less-than-perfect finish for the Rams, Mullaney said she still believes the team is heading in the right direction after this tournament.
“We’re progressing every day,” she said. “(Saturday) didn’t go the way we wanted it to but it’s something we can look at and use to get better.”
Next up for the Rams is a trip to Boulder to face Colorado-Boulder on Wednesday. CSU returns home on Sunday against Denver.
Women’s basketball beat writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at email@example.com.