Valparaiso handed the host Rams of Colorado State just their second opening round defeat in the 15-year history of the Coors Rocky Mountain Invitational on Friday evening with a 64-53 victory in Fort Collins, Colo.
With the victory, the Crusaders advance to Saturday’s championship game at 6 p.m. CST against Florida State.
“Colorado State has a reputation of having an outstanding tradition over the years,” head coach Keith Freeman said. For us to go out there, play at altitude, and get a win is impressive.”
Both teams started very slowly from the floor. An Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) three-pointer at the 15:58 mark gave Valpo a 5-2 advantage. Those would be the last points scored by either team for more than six minutes until Launa Hochstetler (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) hit two free throws to increase the lead to 7-2 at the 9:46 mark.
Colorado State went more than eight minutes without scoring and made just two of its first 20 shots from the floor. Valpo increased its lead to eight, 14-6, at the 6:17 mark following a lay-in by Katie Emig (Farmington Hills, Mich./Farmington Hills H.S.), but the Rams fought back with a 12-2 run to take an 18-16 lead with 1:15 to play.
The Crusaders scored the final five points of the first half, capped with a Litka triple, to take a 21-18 advantage into the locker room.
Valpo held the Rams to just 23.3% (7-of-30) shooting in the first, including 0-of-9 from three-point range.
“I thought the first half we defended very well,” Freeman commented. “We took away the ways that they like to score.”
Valpo came out quickly in the second half, scoring nine of the first 12 points following a Lauren Kenney (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) lay-in. Back-to-back fastbreak lay-ups by Litka and Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnokstalcace H.S.) pushed the Crusader lead to double digits for the first time, 34-23, with 14:56 to play.
Valpo pushed the lead out to 15, 41-26 at the 11:49 mark and the advantage swelled to 19, 61-42, with 3:54 to play, before a late 11-1 run by the Rams cut into the Crusader advantage, setting up the game’s final margin at 11.
“The second half we were able to keep enough pressure on the ball defensively and we got baskets in transition,” added Freeman.
Kulaga led the Crusaders with 20 points, 16 of which came in the second half, on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor on the day. Litka added 14 points while Kenney had nine more to go along with 10 rebounds, her first double-figure rebounding game as a Crusader.
Valpo shot 37.5% for the game and was able to outrebound the Rams 42-39. Valpo also held a 30-20 advantage scoring in the paint, and was able to get the Colorado State posts into foul trouble. The Crusaders committed 16 turnovers in the game, but just four in the final 20 minutes.
Juanise Cornell led Colorado State (1-3) with 11 points while Bonnie Barbee added eight. Amaka Uzomah had 10 rebounds off of the bench for the Rams. The Valpo defense held the Rams to just 29.8% shooting for the game, including 3-of-20 (15%) from three-point range.
Valpo (2-1) will advance to the championship game against the Seminoles, an 80-45 victor over Murray State in the first game of the day. The game will be carried live on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpoathletics.com. The Crusaders will be looking for their first in-season tournament title since winning the Lady Redman Classic hosted by Carthage during the 1985-1986 season.
Game Notes: Valpo improves to 2-1 for just the second time under Coach Freeman (2005-2006 was the other), and just the second time since 1991-1992 … the Crusaders will look to improve to 3-1 for the first time since 1974-1975 … Litka scored in double figures for the 30th time in the last 33 games … Valpo has outrebounded its first three opponents this season after only winning the battle of the boards four times in all of 2007-2008 … Launa Hochstetler had a game-high five assists and moved past Jeanette Gray (1999-2003) for 11th all-time with 241 career helpers … Kulaga had two assists to tie Sheila Kalas (1982-1985) for 19th all-time with 197 assists … this was Valpo’s first win against Colorado State in the second meeting between the two schools … the Rams won the first meeting by 23 in the 1998 Preseason WNIT … this was Valpo’s first win ever against a team from the Mountain West Conference … Colorado State entered the game 23-5 all-time in the tournament.