In pre-season polls, the Rams were picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West Conference.
Midway through the MWC schedule, CSU is tied for fifth with its opponent tonight, Utah, making tonightâ€™s contest in Salt Lake City an important game.
â€œThis game is very, very important,â€ said head coach Tim Miles. â€œWe could get to 4-4 in conference at the midway point and stand alone in fifth place and position ourselves for a run in the second half of the MWC schedule.â€
The Rams (12-9, 3-4 MWC) are coming off a 64-52 home loss to San Diego State on Saturday. The game was within reach in the final minutes of the first half before missed free throws, timely turnovers and overall sloppy play plagued the Rams â€“â€“ a trend which highlighted the teamâ€™s other two recent losses at BYU and New Mexico.
â€œThat is an important part of the game, and if we knocked down some of our free throws at that time of the game, the outcome could have been different,â€ Miles said. â€œBut you are what your record says you are.â€
And the record says the Rams are tied in the conference standings with Utah (10-11, 3-4) â€“â€“ a fact the team notices.
â€œAs with any conference game, this one is huge and with us being tied just makes it that much more important,â€ said senior forward Travis Busch. â€œA win here would be great and we can position ourselves to get a good seed in the MWC tournament and see what we can do.â€
Busch was inserted into the starting lineup Jan. 23 at New Mexico, scoring seven points in 25 minutes. He has remained a starter since then and will make his fourth straight start tonight.
â€œI like starting Busch, and some of that decision came from the shortage of guards, but he has helped blend our rotation and mesh well. I then like having Pierce (Hornung) coming off the bench and providing that energy,â€ Miles said.
The Utes have struggled of late, losing three of their last four, and will be without leading scorer Marshall Henderson, a freshman, due to a suspension after being ejected from Saturdayâ€™s loss at BYU.
Juniors Carlon Brown (13.4 ppg) and Jay Watkins (10.4 ppg) will pick up the scoring slack for the Utes.
The Rams offense will have to deal with the 7-foot-3-inch David Foster in the paint who leads the MWC in blocked shots with 4.3 per game.
â€œIâ€™m just going to have to take it to him,â€ said forward ,Travis Franklin, the Rams most effective post player. â€œHeâ€™s tall, but also skinny, so Iâ€™ll just have to go straight up and not be tentative.â€
CSU has not beaten Utah at the Huntsman Center since 2006.
â€œItâ€™s going to be hostile for sure, but we need to keep our composure and play aggressive,â€ Franklin said.
Menâ€™s Basketball Beat Reporter Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.
Next Game: CSU vs. Utah
Time: 6 p.m.
Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
Watch: The Mtn.