Reeling from a three-game losing streak, the CSU men’s basketball team will attempt to regroup Saturday at the Air Force Academy (1 p.m., Ch. 68) by getting back above .500 in conference play.
The Rams (14-8 overall, 3-4 Mountain West) will start a three-game road trip at the Academy before traveling to New Mexico Monday, and then back north to Wyoming next week. This critical stretch of games could ultimately determine whether the Rams will have a chance of making a postseason tournament.
“Our backs are against the wall, no question,” said Rams’ senior guard Andy Birley. “We put ourselves in a hole, but we’re going to fight out of it. We’re not going to lie down; we’ve still got seven games left. I think it’s definitely a must win.”
The Rams will have to deal with the Falcons’ (10-10, 1-6) ball-control style of play that slows down the pace of a game, but also makes Air Force the lowest scoring team in the conference at 57 points per game.
In the last meeting between the two teams, a 51-49 CSU victory in which the Rams scored only 18 points in the first half, Brian Greene led all scorers with 15 points. This time, the Rams’ senior forward hopes his team will be able to pound the ball into 7-foot center Matt Nelson.
“We’ve been real successful the past couple of years attacking them inside,” Greene said. “They don’t have anyone within six or seven inches of Nelly, so we’re going to attack through him inside and attack the boards real hard. We have to pressure them up the floor and get them out of their flow. Just hurry them up because they play so slow.”
Birley, who hit six three-pointers in the Rams’ last game against Brigham Young, said speeding up the Falcons deliberate attack is easier said than done.
“We’d like to speed up the game, but the thing about Air Force is they’re so well-coached its hard to speed them up,” Birley said. “We have to make sure we get good shots every time because the possessions are going to be limited for us. We’ve had success against them, but we also know we’ve had a lot of close games that we’ve been fortunate to win. We don’t have the luxury of over-looking anybody.”
Having won the last four match-ups with the Falcons, as well as 17 of the last 18 against their in-state rivals, the Rams hope to continue that trend. Air Force’s last win against CSU was in the 2000-01 season, Dale Layer’s first season as head coach, when the Falcons won 46-45 in Clune Arena.