Mar 082006
 
Authors: Trevor Edy

The prize for winning Tuesday's play-in game: The chance to play No. 1-seeded San Diego State (21-8, 13-3 MWC). The first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament will be underway when the No. 8 seeded Rams (16-14, 5-12 MWC) take on the top-ranked Aztecs at noon at the Pepsi Center.

After defeating the last-place TCU Horned Frogs in an ugly 64-60 victory, the Rams hit the court again for the second time in three days.

TCU held first team All-Conference forward Jason Smith to a scoreless first half, his first this season. Missed free throws and sporadic defensive possessions kept the Frogs' hopes alive throughout the game and sometimes even gave them the lead.

"We are typically a good free throw shooting team," said CSU head coach Dale Layer. "It's a different environment and there's a little more pressure. I think our guys will learn from this and respond well heading into (today)."

CSU will have a tough task guarding the MWC Player of the Year Brandon Heath and his counterpart, fellow All-Conference first team selection Marcus Slaughter.

Heath and Slaughter are the two leading scorers in the conference, averaging 18.3 and 16.6 points per game, respectively. CSU's Jason Smith comes in a close third, netting 16.5 points a night.

"We didn't stop number one, that's Brandon Heath's number, either time," said Layer of two previous losses to the Aztecs this season. "He was the guy who made huge shots."

In the last match-up between the two teams in Fort Collins, the Rams had a chance to tie the game with two seconds left. Smith dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds in the final possession to seal the win for the Aztecs.

Heath and Slaughter combined for 53 of the team's 85 total points in the game more than a month ago.

Junior Mohamed Abukar, a second team All-Conference selection, led SDSU to their first win against the Rams with 22 points en route to a 83-75 Aztec victory.

The Rams will look to one of their many scorers to carry them into the second round of the tournament. Junior guard Corey Lewis carried the load in the second game with 26 points and was instrumental in the second half comeback in the near upset.

"You have to worry about every player they have, which makes it difficult to double off of one guy because they all shoot the ball so well," Lewis said in a CSU press release.

Ram swingman Freddy Robinson led CSU in scoring with 16 points, but it will be his defense that will play a pivotal part in today's game, Layer said.

"Fred has to be the guy that makes (Heath) make and take tough shots," Layer said.

Today's game will feature the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked scoring offenses in the conference, with SDSU averaging 75.1 points a game and CSU close behind with 74.7 points per contest. The Aztecs boast the top-ranked 3-point shooting percentage in the conference, converting on nearly 41 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

Student tickets are only available at the Pepsi Center box office and are going for $17 for the lower bowl (100 section) and $12 for the upper bowl (300 section).

"Every game you play to win, and we're out here for our two seniors, Michael Morris and Andrew Patterson," said Michael Harrison after Tuesday's game. "We want to keep our season going as long as possible."

Trevor Edy can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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