Mar 062002

This just may be the most confident No. 7 seed around.

A team that’s 3-11 in league play doesn’t usually boast this sort of attitude, but don’t let CSU hear that.

Sure, the men’s basketball team just got out of last place for the first time all season with a 79-75 overtime win against Brigham Young Saturday night, but the Rams seem to find a way to make you think about their possibilities. Just when you think this team is down for the count, it finds some way to go another round.

Who would have thought they could come back from 14 points down in the second half to beat fourth-place BYU? Did anyone predict them to knock off the prominent University of Michigan? How were they able to take Wyoming, the Mountain West Conference’s best team, into overtime?

So when CSU tips off with Utah for the second time in seven days at 7 p.m. tonight in Las Vegas at the MWC Tournament, it won’t be playing like the underdog it is. And don’t tell the Rams they’re even underdogs.

“There’s a lot more pressure on them than there is on us,” CSU head coach Dale Layer said about Utah, which would probably need to win the MWC Tourney to secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Being the No. 7 seed, CSU is expected to lose. That is why the Rams can approach the game tonight a little more relaxed than the Utes, who have the expectations of reaching at least the conference championship game.

While Utah beat CSU both times in the regular season meetings, winning a third time in a win-or-go-home situation is a tougher task.

Last Thursday, the Utes topped the Rams 72-62 at Moby Arena. The game was closer than the final score might depict, but it was a case of the experienced Utes outlasting the young Rams. The same was true about the teams’ first meeting Feb. 2, in which Utah won 67-62. However, if CSU is more familiar with any one team in the league, it is Utah.

“We don’t have to come back and reprepare for them like we would have if we were to play Wyoming,” said junior forward Brian Greene. “They don’t have to prepare for us as much either, but we know what they do; we know how they beat us. So we can go back to a few nights ago instead of a month ago.”

A few nights ago, it was Utah’s Jeff Johnsen who hurt the Rams by scoring 21 points. CSU freshman center Matt Nelson countered with 22.

Last month it was Johnsen’s younger brother Britton, the MWC Player of the Year, who rang in 28 points on CSU. Greene matched that with 29.

So the key for CSU this time around is to stop the Johnsen brothers and get a scoring distribution similar to the one it had against BYU; Greene scored 22, Nelson 20 and junior guard Andy Birley added 22.

“Any time you’ve got three guys scoring 60 points, that team has a good chance of winning,” Greene said.

Especially in Las Vegas, CSU likes its odds. n

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