A 16-game conference schedule does not typically allow for what is often referred to in sports as a “home stand.” That is, when the stress and misfortunes of traveling to play road games is replaced with the familiarity and support of playing in front of the home crowd for number of consecutive games.
However, four out of the next five games for the CSU men’s basketball team (14-5, 4-3 Mountain West) will be played at Moby Arena – the closest any MWC team will come this season to a “home stand.”
The bevy of home games begins tonight at 7 p.m. when the Rams play host to the streaking and freshly ranked (No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll) Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels (18-4, 5-2).
In a conference where the home team has won 75 percent of conference games this season, the team realizes the next two weeks on the schedule are crucial.
“We have to protect the home court for the next four games,” said sophomore guard Stephan Gilling. “We need to win all of those (games). We need those wins.”
But earning a win tonight will not be easy for the Rams, who have failed to beat the Rebels since defeating them in the 2003 conference tournament championship game, CSU’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Rebels come to Fort Collins as the conference’s hottest team, winners of four straight and with the 11th-best RPI ranking in the country.
“They’re really aggressive, very athletic and very, very good defensively – really thorough and quick,” said CSU assistant coach Bill Peterson.
Defensively, UNLV ranks second in the MWC, behind only CSU, in blocked shots per game and is first in steals.
Look for the Rams to capitalize on their frontcourt size advantage. Seven-foot juniors Stuart Creason and Jason Smith will tower over a UNLV squad that frequently starts four players who are six foot-six inches or shorter.
What the Rebels lack in size they make up for in aforementioned speed. The Rams will have their hands full trying to contain sophomore guard Wink Adams and senior guard Wendell White.
Coach Peterson said the key to containing the lightning quick Rebels will be playing suffocating team defense once the ball crosses the half court line.
“We have to be able to extend our pressure and pick them up a little sooner than half court because they’re so quick to the basket” said Peterson. “We can’t let them get to into the lane, get to the basket and shoot a lot of layups.”
Match-ups and statistics aside, tonight’s game will likely come down to CSU’s ability to preserve its home court advantage over a very athletically gifted opponent.
Creason, who is battling a lower left leg contusion but is expected to play, realizes the fate of his team if it fails to produce victories at Moby.
“If you don’t protect your home court, you don’t have a chance. In this league, getting a road win is like finding gold,” said Creason.
The students, according to coach Peterson, may decide the difference between a much-needed victory and a disappointing loss for CSU.
“If we have a crowd like we had against BYU, then this place will be rocking. I hope people realize that we have a chance to do something special. And if they come out and watch, this could be a really special team.”
Men’s basketball beat writer Sean Star can be reached at email@example.com.
What: No. 25 UNLV at CSU
When: 7:00 p.m.
Where: Moby Arena
TV: The mtn. (Comcast channel 411)
Radio: KCOL AM 600