Two of the MWC’s best big men will face off tonight as the CSU Rams men’s basketball team (14-7, 4-5) tries to stop a three-game losing streak against the Utah Utes (8-14, 3-6) in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m.
CSU junior Jason Smith and Utah sophomore Luke Nevill rank among the conference’s top five in both scoring and rebounding – 16.5, 9.2 and 17.0, 8.0 per game respectively.
Both players stand seven feet or taller and each has a legitimate chance of playing in the NBA.
“(Nevill) is definitely a talent. He’s a good player,” said Smith. “Hopefully we’ll give them a run for their money.”
The Rams have won three in a row over the Utes, including a 73-57 victory at Moby Arena on Jan. 9 when Smith blocked three shots to help limit Nevill to 10 points and five rebounds.
But the two teams currently appear to be heading in different directions. The Utes have won three out of their last five games after starting 0-4 in conference, while the Rams are experiencing a three-game conference losing streak for the seventh consecutive season.
Junior guard Tim Denson knows the importance of tonight’s game.
“A win would be big for us. It would get us our confidence back again,” said the Fullerton College transfer.
A key to victory for the Rams will be defending Utah’s potent 3-point attack, most notably junior guard Johnnie Bryant.
Bryant leads the conference in 3-pointers per game (3.0) and will be guarded by Denson for most of the game.
“I guess coach has me guarding the best guard on their team because he has me as the best defender on the team,” said Denson. “I’m up to the challenge, so I’m going to guard him.”
Denson said that stopping the Utah guards from penetrating to basket and passing out to open players will be the Rams’ strategy for defending the arc.
CSU will also need Smith to stay out of foul trouble in order to get back to a .500 conference record after being limited to only 20 minutes in the Rams’ 70-66 loss to New Mexico Saturday.
“I just got to be smarter,” said Smith, about limiting his number of personal fouls. “I can’t have a dumb foul here or a dumb foul there, like an offensive foul or something like that.”
Senior forward Freddy Robinson will likely play in his 100th career game as a Ram after having two seasons cut short because of injuries.
“What people don’t realize is that I still come here every night and work just as hard as when I came here,” said Robinson.
Men’s basketball beat writer Sean Star can be reached at email@example.com.
What: CSU at Utah men’s basketball
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
TV: The mtn. (Comcast channel 411)
Radio: KCOL AM 600