In the past year, the CSU athletic department has made national news for reasons that were less than flattering. Student-athletes got arrested. A young boy got his face bloodied up after getting run over during a spring football game. And a legendary football coach was forced out.
Then there was Wednesday evening.
Facing a team with the nation’s longest winning streak, the women’s basketball team pulled off perhaps the greatest upset in school history by defeating 12-ranked Utah in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament.
Wednesday’s victory not only put the Rams two wins away from an unthinkable trip to the Big Dance, but it put the athletic department back in the national spotlight too.
However, this time, the university is more than happy to receive the extra attention.
“It’s like advertising you can’t afford,” said athletic director Paul Kowalczyk, who was a guest Thursday morning on ESPN2’s talk show “First Take,” which was followed by Rams coach Jen Warden appearing on a national radio show in the afternoon.
“I just think it’s really wonderful for the kids. I think it’s great for the community of Fort Collins and Colorado State,” Warden said in a phone interview at halftime of the CSU men’s 89-62 loss to BYU. “I really feel like Paul (Kowalczyk) deserves a moment in the sun with the athletic department and the programs that he’s building . I think we should all enjoy this together for awhile.”
Warden, who was backed by Kowalczyk when things were at their worst only weeks ago, credited her players for the amazing turnaround-one that senior guard Sara Hunter had trouble finding the words to describe.
“It’s unbelievable, there’s not even words to describe it, really,” Hunter said. “Basically we’re just having fun and playing for each other. It’s everything I could have ever dreamed of for my senior year.”
After going three months without a win, the Rams will now look for their third in a row today at 1 p.m. against New Mexico in the semifinals. The fourth-seeded Lobos beat the ninth-seeded Rams by an average of 29 points this season.
But after a 19-point win over UNLV Tuesday and the historic upset Wednesday, Warden says she plans on making only a few minor adjustments for New Mexico.
“This is a time where you go to the war room and you’re not gonna rebuild an engine, but you’re gonna buff out some scratches,” she said.
Offensively, look for the Rams to go through forward Amaka Uzomah in the paint, as they did Tuesday when she dished out six assists. Establishing an inside presence to help create open shots is a primary focus of the CSU’s triangle offense.
Defensively, the Rams will key on stopping Lobos all-conference forward Dionne Marsh, who Hunter called “one of the best players in the conference.”
And who knows, with another win, the Rams could find themselves back in the national spotlight-a place the women have found to be quite comfortable the past two days.
“It’s awesome to see a positive influence on national television, it shows people around the world that CSU has some really nice talent, some really nice athletes,” Uzomah said. “Not everything has to be bad about CSU.”