Jan 202004
 
Authors: Steve Latuda

Making its first of two appearances on ESPN this year, and

wrapping up a two-game tour of the state of Utah, the CSU men’s

basketball team was unable to capture its first Mountain West

Conference victory on Monday night, falling to the Utah Utes 67-49

at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

Coming off possibly the worst game of the year (an 82-53 loss to

Brigham Young), Dale Layer’s squad came out and jumped on the Utes

right away taking a 28-27 lead into the break.

But once the second half started, the Utes began clamping down

on defense, and turned a once-close affair into a route.

The Utes, who rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense and

No. 12 in field goal percentage defense, held the Rams to just 21

second-half points on 33 percent shooting.

Utah improved to 3-0 in Mountain West Conference play and 15-3

overall, while the Rams dropped to 0-3 in the MWC and 8-8

overall.

Nick Jacobson led the Utes with 18 points, while Richard Chaney

added 16 on 6-of-9 shooting from the field including 4-of-6 from

3-point range. Matt Nelson led CSU with 17 points and Ronnie Clark

added 14.

Nelson, seeing his first real action since injuring his knee in

a Jan. 5 loss to Montana State, gave the Rams a much needed punch

on the offensive side of the ball, as well as someone who could

match-up to the height put on the floor by the Utes.

Coach Layer started his 10th different lineup of the season,

going with 6-foot-10 freshman center Stephen Verwers, three

forwards – Matt Williams, Freddy Robinson and Ronnie Clark – and

guard Shelton Johnson.

Nelson’s return for the Rams was a start on the road to finally

getting healthy, but guard Micheal Morris was still left to sit and

watch his teammates from the sidelines, dressed in street

cloths.

“I am not using injuries as an excuse for our recent

performance,” Layer said. “But not having a fully healthy Matt

Nelson and no Micheal Morris takes away from the chemistry of our

team.”

The lead changed hands eight times and was tied four times in

the first half as the Rams took a one-point lead into the locker

room. Clark scored with 26 seconds left and the Utes had three

tries to take a halftime lead, but Utah center Tim Frost’s

3-pointer bounced away, Justin Hawkins’ put back was blocked and

Frost’s follow shot rimmed out.

The Utes are 12-0 at home this season, and they have won 28 of

their last 29 home games.

Colorado State is the only visitor in the last three years to

win at Utah, scoring a 66-65 win last March. Utah has won 67 of its

past 70 conference home games.

“They’re a good team, and they don’t lose many games there,”

Layer said.

The Rams will return home for a showdown with the San Diego

State Aztecs, who are 2-0 in conference play, and then host the

Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels on Monday night at Moby Arena.

Mountain West race looks like battle of Utah teams

By Steve Latuda

This year, the Mountain West conference is shaping up to be one

of the more balanced conferences in the nation.

With the loss of many stars from many teams, but the teams

ability to land very solid recruiting classes, the 2003-04 MWC race

is surly one that will come down to the wire this season.

Every year Utah is one of the more feared teams in the MWC, and

this year is no different. BYU is another team that always

challenges for the title, but this year a team that has tasted

little success in the MWC, the Air Force Falcons, is also a team to

watch.

But the question is: who will finish where and how many teams

will the MWC send to the NCAA tournament this season?

1. Utah – Since the Utes are almost untouchable at home against

conference foes, Utah gets the edge as the top team in the

conference this year. Led by senior Nick Jacobson and freshman

Andrew Bogut, the Utes will most likely end up dancing with the big

boys come March.

2. BYU – Seniors Mark Bigelow and Rafael Araujo give the Cougars

one of the most dangerous inside-outside threats in the MWC. The

Cougars hate being upstaged by in-state rival Utah, and will do

everything in their power to top the Utes. “They (Utah) hate us and

we hate them,” Bigelow said. “It will be fun to see what happens

this year.”

3. San Diego State – The Aztecs have a legitimate chance at

making some noise this year in the MWC. With home victories over

BYU and UNLV this season, the Aztecs are in good position to make a

run at the top this season. “We have had great home court crowds

here,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “We have put their sails to

the wind, and our crowd has been the wind. We feed off of them.

Hopefully, the crowd will be back after our road trip.”

4. UNLV – The Rebels have not hit their stride just yet in

league play, but are athletic enough to give many teams in the MWC

problems this year.

5. Air Force – The Falcons will finally climb out of the cellar

this year, and that can be credited to Joe Scott and his

Princeton-style offense. “It took four years to get the players

that are right for this system,” Scott said. “I think we are

finally in a position to make some noise in this conference.

6. CSU – The Rams need to get healthy fast or the season could

end even faster.

7. Wyoming – The Cowboys are in a bit of a down year, but look

for solid play from their junior point guard Jay Straight, and a

tough environment when playing in Wyoming.

8. New Mexico – This could possibly be the worst team the Lobos

have had in recent memory. The Lobos’ 26-point loss at home to Air

Force confirmed the rumor that the Pit (UNM’s home floor) has lost

its magic.

Teams that will make the tournament: Utah, BYU, San Diego

State

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