With all of the team’s recent struggles, one thing CSU women’s basketball has been able to count on is the effort of Sara Hunter.
The junior guard will lead the Rams in a stiff Mountain West Conference game against Utah Saturday at 3 p.m.
Hunter, who posted a career-high 28 points in Wednesday night’s 85-67 loss to TCU, has taken over as the squad’s leading scorer following the departures of freshman Kelly Jo Mullaney and senior Molly Nohr.
Mullaney, along with fellow freshman Raysha Ritter, declined to return to the team after a three-week suspension for an apparent prank was lifted on Feb. 2. Nohr took a leave of absence after playing just 11 minutes in a 75-66 loss at San Diego State on Jan. 20 and is not expected to return.
So now much of the weight falls on Hunter, especially as a young CSU team faces two stiff tests on the road, first against Utah and then at New Mexico on Wednesday.
Despite losing eight of their last nine games, the Rams are still confident they can pull off a key conference road win, said Hunter.
“We have to go into every game with the mentality that we’re going to win,” she said. “We know we’re just as good as anyone out there.”
Recent team results don’t necessarily back that claim up, but Hunter’s recent performances put her in the company of some of the MWC’s top players.
Hunter’s 11.9 points per game is the 13th-best average in the league, and her .347 3-point shooting percentage is 10th-best.
But the most impressive stat for Hunter might be her average of 37.5 minutes played per game, the second-best mark in the MWC.
With a depleted roster, Hunter’s durability has played a huge role for the Rams, Head Coach Jen Warden said.
“I don’t think you could ask any more from her,” Warden said. “You want to give her a break, but she’s the heart and soul of your team out there.”
CSU will again need that kind of performance against Utah on Saturday. The Utes are in second place in the MWC standings, just one game behind first-place Brigham Young.
Utah is led by sophomore guard Morgan Warburton’s 16.2 points per game, the second-best average in the league. Freshman Kalee Whipple adds 10.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Utah out-shot the Rams 49 percent to 24 percent in a 73-57 win on Jan. 11. Hunter, who scored 16 points in that loss, said the Rams would be better prepared for a young but strong Utah squad.
“They’re a very good team and extremely well-coached,” she said. “It’s going to be a good road game for us. We’re going to work on some defensive things and make some changes.”
Women’s basketball beat writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at email@example.com.