It may not have been on the world stage, and the winners will not be heading to Disneyland anytime soon, but when the CSU women’s basketball team took on Air Force Sunday afternoon the result was enough to bring head coach Jen Warden to tears of joy that would fit right in with any Super Bowl celebration.
Ending what Warden could only call a “long month,” the Rams (7-14, 2-7 MWC) snapped a seven-game losing streak by beating the last-place Air Force Falcons (4-16, 0-9 MWC) in Moby Arena, 61-49.
“I am proud of this team on a number of levels,” Warden said. “They are developing their identity as a defensive team, as a team with grit and heart, and you can’t teach that.”
Up by four points with just 2:33 left in the game, the Rams allowed just two more points until time ran out. Effective foul shooting in the last two minutes ballooned CSU’s lead to 12, its largest of the game.
“When it came within four this team understood without saying a word that they needed to defend to win,” Warden said. “That is an incredible leap for our program.”
While the defense was undeniably tough throughout the game, the offense was able to mount an effective assault of its own.
The Rams had two players finish with double-doubles, and three were in double digits for scoring. Senior center Marilyn Moulton led the team with her third career double-double, scoring 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Freshman forward Juanise Cornell recorded the first double-double of her career, scoring 13 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Sara Hunter rounded out the top scorers by adding 16 points of her own, as well as notching three assists.
After the game, all three players expressed their relief in finally ending the losing streak and getting ready for the rest of the season.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about heart and it’s all about working hard,” Cornell said. “It’s so fulfilling.”
“We are closer because we know that the people who are here want to be here,” Hunter said. “We are going to finish this thing right.”
Air Force was led offensively by sophomore guard Brooke Cultra. The Illinois native scored 12 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. Junior forward Alecia Steele added 16 points and senior guard Letricia Castillo finished with 14, including two three-pointers.
The Rams opened the game with a solid defensive effort, not allowing a basket for the first 4:38 and building a 7-0 lead in the process. CSU was also able to force five Air Force turnovers in the first four minutes of the game, leading to five points.
The Falcons regained their composure after a timeout with 15:42 left, going on a 9-3 run to take the lead with 8:54 left in the first half.
The teams traded baskets for much of the rest of the half until Hunter hit two threes late in the period to cap an 11-4 CSU run and sent the Falcons into the locker room down 32-26.
The story would be repeated in the second half, as the Rams were able to maintain control of the game, even when things got close.
For CSU, the win offers everyone in the program a new beginning.
“We are turning another page,” Cornell said. “This is the second round of the conference. The first round is over. We are going to get better and we are going to win games.”
The Rams will look to start a winning streak when the 6-3 TCU Horned Frogs come to Moby on Wednesday.
Tip off is set for 7 p.m.
Women’s basketball beat writer Nick Hubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.