The CSU men’s basketball team hit the lowest point of its season after Monday night’s 79-73 loss to Brigham Young, but optimism remains that the Rams can repeat last year’s run in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
CSU (11-12 overall, 3-7 conference) has lost four straight conference games and is tied with Wyoming for last place in the Mountain West. Three of the team’s remaining four games are conference road games. The Rams have not won a conference road game this season.
“We can’t keep letting teams roll over us,” guard Micheal Morris said after the BYU game.
Optimism remains, however, because of the prospect of history repeating. The Rams lost seven straight conference games in February last season with 7-foot center Matt Nelson playing with a bad right knee. However, CSU pulled off a couple upsets late in the season and entered the Mountain West tournament as the No. 6 seed.
The team proceeded to pull off upsets over Wyoming, BYU and Nevada-Las Vegas to win the Mountain West and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where they fell to Duke late in the game.
Nelson returned to the CSU lineup Monday against BYU after missing three games with a sprained right knee, leading all scorers with 24 points. While Nelson’s return did not give CSU enough of a boost to beat the Cougars, he said the Rams are confident they can beat anybody in the conference when the tournament rolls around March 11 to 13 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Despite the losing streak, head coach Dale Layer said he thinks the team has improved.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Layer said. “We did a lot of things good, just not enough to beat a good team.”
Monday’s game was the first time since Jan. 3 against Pepperdine where CSU has had everyone on its roster available for the entire game. Point guard Dwight Boatner has begun to emerge for the Rams, scoring in double figures in five of the last six games, including 11 points Monday.
Problems for the Rams, however, continue to be offensive rebounds and costly turnovers, which have led to many big runs by opponents. On Monday, BYU grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and turned 13 CSU turnovers into 19 fast break points.
Meanwhile, the Cougars (16-7, 6-4) are the conference’s hottest team, with four straight wins vaulting them into third place in the standings.
Around the MWC
Texas – Pan American 37, Air Force 35
Air Force (18-4, 8-1) remains atop the Mountain West standings, but its run for at-large consideration in the NCAA tournament took a major blow with the loss to the Broncs (12-13) of the Southland Conference.
The Falcons’ schedule strength ranks 238, well below average for a tournament team, limiting their chances of reaching the Big Dance to the automatic berth given to the MWC Tournament champion. The Falcons return to conference play Saturday at 1 p.m. in Utah in a game between the top two conference teams. They will stay in Utah to face the conference’s hottest team, BYU, Monday in Provo.
Wyoming 74, Utah 65
The Cowboys used their ninth starting lineup of the season and handed the Utes their first loss since the departure of head coach Rick Majerus. The victory ended a four-game losing streak for the Cowboys and ended Utah’s four-game winning streak. Now 3-7 in conference play, the Cowboys are tied with CSU in the cellar of the conference, while Utah (7-3) lost a game to Air Force in the standings. The Utes will play Air Force Saturday at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
Brigham Young 79, CSU 73
With a four-game winning streak, BYU heads home to the Marriot Center, where the team is 10-0 this season, to play New Mexico on Saturday and Air Force on Monday. CSU looks to end a four-game losing streak at Nevada – Las Vegas at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday and will play at San Diego State Monday night at 7 p.m.
San Diego State (12-11, 3-5) at UNLV (12-9, 3-5)
The Aztecs and the Rebels faced off Tuesday night at the Connie & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Both teams were tied for fifth in the conference with 3-5 records going into the game, and both were looking to end losing streaks; for UNLV a three-game slide, for SDSU two. UNLV, in the midst of a three-game home stand, hosts CSU on Saturday, while SDSU is home to Wyoming on Saturday.