Off to 23-1 start, Colorado State remains unranked
Colorado State’s record? 23-1. Rank in the polls? Still waiting.
For as successful as this season has been so far for coach Ryun Williams and the Rams, the recognition has been slow to catch up.
That’s perfectly fine with Williams, whose team has reeled off a school-record 20 straight wins and counting. The Rams aren’t chasing a spot in the polls, only an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2002.
“We really do have a legit team,” Williams said in a phone interview. “And I do think people are taking notice. But we’re not trying to get notice. We’re just trying to beat the next team on our schedule.”
The Rams are far from your ordinary team. They have no true point guard. No true forward or center, either. Instead, everyone on the roster can pretty much line up anywhere on the floor. Even center Emilie Hesseldal has been known to bring the ball up the court to break the press.
“If you put a conventional lineup out there against us, we’ll have a matchup advantage somewhere on a lot of nights,” said Williams, who is 82-36 since arriving four years ago. “But we didn’t think of this (kind of success). We thought by the end of year we could have a really nice basketball team. This group has far exceeded our expectations.”
By piling up wins, the Rams are steadily making some headway in the national landscape. They’re listed in the “others receiving votes” section of polls — either barely ahead of or slightly behind Brigham Young, a team the Rams beat earlier in the season.
Should Colorado State make the rankings, it would mark the first time since November 18, 2002.
“Obviously, there are teams that are better than us in those spots,” said Williams, whose team features nine international players, including three starters. “We just need to keep getting better, because we can’t control that. That’s not our mission — to make the top-25 or anything like that. Our mission is to just become the best basketball team we can become.”
On Nov. 24, Colorado State missed a jumper at the buzzer in a 49-48 loss at Penn. That’s significant because it’s the last time the Rams have lost.
They’ve had some close calls in amassing their 20-game win streak — a double-OT win at Navy — but lately they’ve been blowing out opponents, winning their last six league games by an average of 25.3 points.
“We’ve evolved into a really nice team that could compete with a lot of teams,” Williams said. “We’ve got versatility that can make us difficult to defend.”
The tenets of this team are basic: Don’t turn the ball over, and play smothering defense. Colorado State is among the best in the nation in categories such as assist-to-turnover ratio (eighth), turnovers per game (seventh) and field goal percentage defense (fourth).
All this success is nothing new for junior guard Ellen Nystrom, who was on stellar teams in Sweden.
“I hate losing,” Nystrom said after a 91-64 win over Utah State on Wednesday night that set the school mark for most consecutive wins. “So when Coach (Williams) brought everyone in here, he wanted to bring people with that winning mentality so we can turn the program around.”
Steadily, Williams has transformed the Rams into a contender. His team went 11-19 his first year, 25-8 the next and 23-8 a season ago.
And now this, with the current version drawing comparisons to the ’98-99 team that advanced to the Sweet 16. It was a squad that featured one of the biggest names in program history, Becky Hammon, who set all sorts of school records before a standout pro career. She’s now an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
“Becky is the golden child of Colorado State women’s basketball. So for our team to be mentioned in same sentence with Becky, we’re proud of that,” Williams said. “Because I know that team was exceptional.
“If you look at Colorado State, you’ll see a good, good basketball team. We know our way in (to the NCAA Tournament) is to win the Mountain West tournament. That’s our charge and our mission. But we’ve got a long way to go before we get there.”