The inability to defend opposing guards has hounded the CSU womenâ€™s basketball team all season.
On Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas, that inability cost the Rams (14-16) its season after Air Force guards Raimee Beck and Alicia Leipprandt led the ninth-seeded Falcons to a 66-63 upset win in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
Leipprandt scored a career-high 26 points with Beck adding 14 points, 15 rebounds and the game-sealing block against CSUâ€™s Kim Mestdagh.
â€œTheir penetration was what killed us,â€ Rams head coach Kristen Holt said. â€œThey kept going to the basket and we didnâ€™t have an answer for it.â€
CSU senior Bonnie Barbee hit a three from the corner to give the Rams a brief 63-62 lead with 2:46 remaining in the game before Beck answered with a three of her own to put the Falcons back on top.
The Rams missed three field goal attempts and turned the ball over once as their season slipped away in the final moments.
â€œYou can never sit easy on a lead no matter what time in the game unless thereâ€™s zero seconds left on the clock,â€ Barbee said.
CSU opened the second half with a 7-0 run to take a three point lead with 17:49 remaining and led by as many as six points, but they traded baskets near the end of the game and couldnâ€™t find a way to put the Falcons away.
CSU held an eight-point lead with 8:20 left in the first half, but a Lepprandt layup six minutes later would even the score at 29.
â€œWe kept having leads and theyâ€™d creep back in,â€ Barbee said. â€œThey were able to always stay in it and took the lead at the end.â€
Freshman Sam Martin capped off a stellar season in which she made the third team All-MWC team by scoring 17 points and bringing down a career-high 12 rebounds. Kim Mestdagh finished with a below-average 12 points â€“â€“ missing all nine of her three point attempts.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say she had one of her better games,â€ said Holt, of Mestdaghâ€™s performance. â€œSheâ€™s carried us through most of our games and I donâ€™t fault her at all.â€
In spite of the loss to the lowest ranked seed in the tournament, CSU exceeded the expectations of most this season. The Rams won more games than they did a year ago and finished in the top half of the conferenceâ€™s final standings, continuing an upward trend under Holt.
â€œWe were picked to be eighth and we ended in fourth; that shows that our program is going somewhere,â€ said Martin. â€œWe definitely proved ourselves this season and this game doesnâ€™t dictate anything about our season or anything about our team.â€
Womenâ€™s Basketball Beat Reporter Kyle Grabowski can be reached at email@example.com.