No rest for the weary.
That saying has never meant more to Head Coach Jen Warden and the CSU women’s basketball squad than this season, as the team has seen three players quit and several others struggle with injury.
Saturday at Utah, freshman guard Emily Neal aggravated her right shoulder, which she separated earlier this season, and is questionable for today’s game at New Mexico at 7 p.m.
That leaves CSU (7-16, 2-9) with eight players, just three in reserve, for its rematch with the Lobos (17-7, 7-4). It has been a challenge, but not an excuse, for the Rams, said Warden.
“We don’t have the luxury to not be perfect through fatigue,” she said. “You feel as a coach you need to give your team a break. When you’re not able to do that, it’s frustrating.”
Fatigue has appeared to be a factor in the Rams’ stretch of nine losses in ten games, including Saturday at Utah, when the team trailed by six points at halftime but then gave up an 11-2 run to start the second half in a 64-49 loss.
Junior guard Sara Hunter, the team’s leading scorer with 11.9 points per game, has played all but one minute of the Rams’ last four games, and almost every CSU player has seen an increase in minutes.
Warden gave the team Sunday and Monday off in what she said is an ongoing process to determine how much rest her team needs.
“I think it’s a tremendous intuitive balance,” she said. “We have to decide what makes our team the best.”
The Rams now face one of the Mountain West Conference’s hottest teams in New Mexico, the league’s preseason favorite. The Lobos defeated the Rams 73-42 at Moby Arena on Jan. 13, the day after four Rams were suspended for an apparent prank on a teammate.
That was New Mexico’s first conference win after dropping its first three games. Since then, the Lobos have won six of seven to pull within two games of first-place Brigham Young in the league standings.
According to Warden, the Lobos’ turnaround can be credited to the healthy return of their star guard Dionne Marsh, whom Warden calls the “cornerstone of their team.”
Marsh, who struggled with an ankle injury in her team’s first four conference games, is averaging 14.1 points per game, sixth best in the MWC. New Mexico is also holding opponents to a league-best 54.8 points per game.
“They’ve got big, long, versatile bodies,” said Warden. “(New Mexico Head Coach Don Flanagan) has got a real nice sense of when to pressure a team.”
Warden said she expects her team to limit such mistakes and be able to compete with New Mexico, even with a small squad currently trying to battle their way out of second-to-last place in the league.
“We can win four of our last five games,” she said. “We can’t let this week be a road block; it has to propel us toward that.”
Women’s basketball beat reporter Jeff Dillon can be reached at email@example.com.