The current four-game losing streak for the CSU Rams men’s basketball team has nothing to do with playing tougher defense or executing the offense better.
According to the players, the problem is a mental one.
“We just have to play smarter,” said senior point guard Cory
Lewis, who picked up his second technical foul of the season during Wednesday night’s loss to Utah for reacting to a call made by an official.
For the Rams, playing smarter starts with having their best player actually on the court and not on the bench in foul trouble.
Junior Jason Smith had his minutes cut short again on Wednesday to avoid fouling out, despite Head Coach Dale Layer’s attempt to protect Smith by bringing him off the bench for the first time since his freshman season.
Smith has only managed to play 21 minutes per game in the Rams’ last two games.
The Rams will likely need more than 21 minutes from Smith on Saturday to beat the defending conference champion, San Diego State, at 1 p.m. at Moby Arena.
Junior center Stuart Creason believes Smith’s troubles are a combination of his competitive personality and his reputation among the conference officials.
“A lot of the referees we see for multiple games and they make calls based on what they expect to see,” said Creason. “But sometimes he just makes poor decisions.”
There’s no doubt that without Smith in the game, the Rams are a different basketball team.
We need him on the court,” said sophomore Stephan Gilling.
“He’s too big of a factor on this team not to have him out there when we need him.”
As cold as the Rams are, the Aztecs are equally hot. SDSU comes to Fort Collins with a three-game winning streak and fresh off a 62-41 victory over No. 15 Air Force on Tuesday.
The Aztecs defeated the Rams 81-76 on Jan. 12 in the first match-up between the two teams this season. The victory was the sixth in the last seven games for SDSU against CSU.
According to Gilling, amnesia is the key for the Rams to get their first win in almost three weeks.
“This team needs to forget about the losses and forget about the past,” said Gilling. “Right now it’s kind of hard, but we need to get our heads back on straight.”
Gilling was adamant to his teammates about being mentally stronger after the Utah loss, according to Creason.
The Aztecs feature one of the conference’s most dynamic players, senior guard Brandon Heath. The defending MWC Player of the Year averages a team-best 18.8 points per game and is as talented defensively as he his on offense.
“We just have to play good team defense on (Heath) and limit his touches,” said Lewis. “We have to be in his face every time he touches the ball.”
Men’s basketball beat writer Sean Star can be reached at email@example.com.