By Alex Crook | Staff Writer
The Saint Mary’s women’s basketball team will play Mountain West Conference regular season champion Colorado State in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational tonight at 6 p.m. PDT, so The Collegian’s own Alex Crook picked the brain of The Rocky Mountain Collegian reporter Colin Barnard to preview tonight’s matchup.
A.C.: How will the Rams plan to contain Megan McKay, both as a rebounder and an inside scorer?
C.B.: More often than not, the Rams run a smothering 2-3 zone to disrupt the opposition’s flow. On the season, the Rams rank fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 53.1 points per game. Though forward Elin Gustavsson is the only Ram who sees significant minutes that matches McKay in terms of size, the team makes up for that with quick, disciplined defense from its guards. Look for the Rams to get in the passing lanes of the Gaels and limit McKay’s touches down low.
A.C.: How will CSU out-rebound Saint Mary’s both offensively and defensively?
C.B.: Back-to-back Mountain West Player of the Year Ellen Nystrom is the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 8.0 per game. Her 7.1 defensive rebounds per game rank second in the conference, and that’s where the Rams get their rebounding advantage. On the offensive end, the Rams prefer to set up their defense in the half court rather than get out of position looking for offensive boards. Still, players like Gustavsson and Callie Kaiser have the ability to create second chances, but don’t expect them to come often.
A.C.: What are the biggest keys to Colorado State coming out with a fast start?
C.B.: Colorado State runs through its Swedish seniors Nystrom and Gustavsson. Their contributions have been as reliable as they come throughout the year. What takes the Rams to the next level is finding a third contributor. Down the stretch, Myanne Hamm has been that player coming off the bench. Defensively, she may be CSU’s best player in terms of instincts. She has a knack for getting her hands on the ball, creating turnovers and turning them into easy points at the other end. If she is on her game early, that can alleviate some of the pressure from Nystrom and Gustavsson, allowing them to settle into a comfortable pace.
A.C.: How can CSU control the game tempo?
C.B.: Nystrom is the game manager that every coach dreams of and her ability to control the game in the high post is something the Rams use to their advantage every game. She can make the pull-up jumper off the dribble, take it into the low post, or set up an open teammate with ease. That slow, controlled style of offense plays heavily into the Rams’ favor. Defensively, look for the Rams to pressure the ball handler and create turnovers in the 2-3. If an easy bucket in transition is there, they’ll take it. Otherwise, expect them to slow the tempo to set up their offense.
A.C.: What is the Rams’ weakest asset on offense or defense and how does Saint Mary’s exploit that?
C.B.: At times, Colorado State’s outside shooting has been their downfall. Even when they get the looks they hope for, the Rams endure long stretches where they can’t get the lid off the rim. If this is the case against St. Mary’s, the Gaels may be able to take a lead early and hold onto it throughout the evening.
A.C.: The team that gets more ___________ will win.
C.B.: The team that makes more three-points field goals will win. Though their three-point woes can be a detriment, it can also be a strength. When the Rams are hitting from deep, they’re tough to beat. It adds another dimension to their offense beyond the duo of Nystrom and Gustavsson and forces the defense to focus on everyone, not just those two.