FORT COLLINS, Colo. – After the game, the focus was the fireworks.
It was the only reason anybody from Colorado State’s women’s basketball program was smiling on Wednesday night. The Rams spent 30 minutes of the game with a scowl on their face. The next 10, it was replaced with determination and a bit of fire in the eyes.
They only led visiting Utah State at Moby Arena for 1:28 of the game, but it was the final 1:28. It took the best offensive quarter of the season – 31 points – to erase an 11-point deficit entering the final frame and produce an 86-83 Mountain West victory the team so desperately needed, moving the conference mark to 6-6 (15-7 overall) and ending a two-game losing streak.
In the two games previous, the Rams were either up four or down four in the final 4 minutes. They lost both, and they helped fuel a spark to close out this game.
“Heart. It comes down to heart. And come to think of it, we were down 10-15 points,” CSU guard Upe Atosu said. “I said, ‘remember when we played Air Force?’ They fought back, so why shouldn’t we? When we played New Mexico, we fought back. It comes down to focusing on what we have, because we just really need to bring it and put everything together.”
In the final 10 minutes of the Orange Out game, Atosu and McKenna Hofschild put on a show. They spent the time exchanging big shots as both scored 12 in the fourth quarter alone. Hofschild, who finished with 13 assists to produce her third double-double of the season and move to eighth on the single-season assist list (now with 144), scored five of the team’s 11 baskets and assisted on five others.
They were running, they flowed offensively and the biggest quarter of the season led to the best half of the campaign, scoring 58 with the 27 in the third.
When Hofschild wasn’t scoring baskets, she was finding teammates who could.
“It’s so much fun. When we get out and run, and it’s kind of like I’ve got my pick of who I want to give it to, because everyone is in such great spots, everyone is being so successful in what they’re doing,” she said. “It makes my job very easy.”
With 2:08 remaining, the Rams had the game tied at 78 on an Atosu 3, and Hofschild followed that up with a bucket in the paint off a Utah State turnover, giving the Rams the lead for the first time, an edge they never gave up.
Partly because Utah State couldn’t hit free throws. Those played a key role, as the guest made just 8-of-16, and Manna Mensah had a chance to tie the game at 80 right after, but missed the first attempt. The Rams, conversely, hit all 11 they took, with Atosu hitting all eight of hers (the last two with 5 seconds remaining), part of a 24-point night.
Hofschild extended the lead with her final basket to give her 23 points, and while the Aggies kept things close, they never could get over the hump.
CSU coach Ryun Williams enjoyed the exploits of his two guards as much as anyone.
“Big shot after big shot, but a lot of big plays. Kenna had 13 assists, and Upe had a lot of assists to our 5s,” he said. “Those are our two play makers. They drive it, they can create a lot of havoc for the defense. You need playmakers to make plays. That’s what this time of year is about. Kids who can really ball out need to ball out. I think they saved their best when we needed it the most.”
They needed it because Colorado State wasn’t very stingy defensively, not until the fourth quarter. Utah State shot 50 percent or better in three quarters, and it scored at least 20 points in three of the frames. It’s not normally a recipe for success.
Despite only two wins in conference play, Utah State – and particularly Adryana Quezada – has had this effect on the Rams. Quezada scored 29 in the game after going for 30 in the first matchup. The Aggies also own the best offensive quarter (29 points) and best offensive half (47) the Rams have allowed this year.
Williams wasn’t happy about it, but he did credit his team for playing harder on that end down the stretch. Cali Clark helped slow down Quezada before fouling out, and the length of Sydney Mech helped clog some passing lanes. While the Aggies still shot 50 percent in the fourth, they were also forced into four turnovers which made a difference.
“Really, it was just getting after it,” Hofschild said. “We realized we didn’t have much time to make up our deficit, so we were getting aggressive, maybe taking a few chances that worked out for us. We had to lock in on that end, and we did.”
The Rams create a stop every time, but they forced enough of them. And they ran like the outcome depended on it, which it really did. The deficit created by defense was made up eventually by a great offensive second half. Clark, who scored eight in the third quarter as the Rams made their initial run at cutting into the lead, was one of four CSU players in double figures. She scored 13 off the bench, with Kendyll Kinzer adding 14.
Williams wouldn’t have drawn it up in the manner it played out, but he wasn’t about to give it back, especially since his team never gave up.
“This game can be crazy. The ups and downs of a game, the ups and downs of a season, it seemed like we went through it all in four quarters there, to be honest with you,” he said. “We obviously didn’t get off to a very good defensive start, and that’s where we challenged our kids a little bit more in the second half. We got enough stops, but they made a decision, they changed their attitude to go play with a different mindset, and that’s why we scored it better and why we got enough shots. A 58-point second half, that’s incredible. You don’t do that if you’re really not playing with a lot of conviction and a tremendous will to win.
“Defensively, obviously, we have our challenges. I don’t know if they’ll get corrected until our attitude gets corrected on that end; that’s up to them. They surely liked to play offense in the second half, which was key to that victory.”
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