LAS VEGAS -- The Colorado State Rams are the #22 team in the nation. They were expected to come into the Mountain West tournament and dominate it. They have an astounding record of 30-1 overall and did not lose a single game in conference. So, would their game against Fresno State lead to a blow out?
Conversly, the Fresno State Bulldogs only lost 3 games in conference and have a 21-10 record. Three of their players have averaged double figure scoring games for the season. After defeating the Lady Rebels of UNLV in the semi-finals, the Bulldogs, the #2 seed in the tournament, set up the classic 1-2 finals match-up.
After coming out swinging, Fresno State slowed down and the Rams started making shots to find their way out of an 8-point early deficit. By the second quarter, the Rams were back within 3. The referees were often booed by both sides as they let the players push around inside neglecting to call what they saw as "no-calls."
Fresno State took advantage of this and became the aggressor for much of the fist half, eventually extending their lead to 10 points with half of the second quarter to go. Colorado State's Keyora Wharry who usually averages over 12 points a game found herself, in the first half, throwing up desperation last minute shots as the Bulldogs defense suffocated any offensive flow for the Rams.
By the end of the first half, the Bulldogs ballooned their lead to 14 points which put the Rams into a highly unfamiliar as well as uncomfortable position going into the next 20 minutes.
Little by little the Rams pushed back. In the third, Fresno started to struggle with their shot. The Rams started to hit theirs, especially from behind the 3-point arc. A double-digit lead quickly turned sour for Fresno State.
It all came down to the fourth quarter.
Within two minutes of the final quarter with the championship on the line, Colorado State fought their way back to within just four points. Stine Austgulen was a perfect 4-4 from the field, and 3-3 from the arc by the end of three quarters. And the team's overall shooting success awakened.
Fresno State would have to keep the surging Rams at bay to pick up the upset.
After going 2-5 from the field through three quarters, Keyora Wharry started driving, kicking, and scoring the way the Rams have become accustomed to this season. With under three minutes to go, the Rams were within 1 point.
After four consecutive turnovers, the score 54-53, Colorado State had one possession left with just 11 seconds left. Just one basket would win the game and likely leave little time for the Bulldogs to counter. Fresno State coach Jaime White, decided to use available team fouls to wind the clock down to 4.3 seconds.
Then, then after being fouled seemingly unintentionally, Ellen Nystrom, went to the line for the Rams to tie or put her team up by 1 with just 3.3 seconds to go. She made both.
Fresno State had one final chance and came up short. It was a heart breaking loss for the Bulldogs who controlled the entire game until the last 4 seconds.
After the game, Jaime White was emotional when discussing her team but joked, "I feel like I should be singing a very sad song right now." With tears in her eyes she added, "I'm really proud of our year. We were picked fourth and we ended up in the championship game."
CSU secures the Mountain West Women's Championship and now looks forward to the NCAA Tournament.