Mar 012011
 
Authors: Cris Tiller

For the last time ever as conference opponents, CSU and the University of Utah will meet on the hardwood of Moby Arena.

These two long-time rivals have battled each other 145 times over nearly 80 years, making it the second longest standing rivalry in CSU basketball history.

CSU (18-10, 8-6 MWC) has recently struggled to find victories, losing a season-high three straight games. –– each loss making a NCAA tournament berth less likely.

Saturday’s loss to the Air Force Academy, 74-57, shattered the Rams’ goal to win three of their final four games, which they felt would earn them a spot in the tournament.

The players still feel the Big Dance is not out of their reach.

“If we do everything right, win the conference tournament, we’re in,” sophomore Greg Smith said. “We still have the opportunities these last two games and with the tournament coming up to make a run at it.”

The Rams have given up an average of 72 points per game during the current three-game losing streak, four points more than the team’s season average of 68.
Tonight’s game is the final home contest of the season and a chance to regain what has been absent in the previous three defeats.

“We just got to get our swagger back. That’s something we’ve been missing, especially defensively,” Smith said. “We’re trying to get back to our old selves.”

Smith played well in the first matchup between the two schools on Jan. 29, scoring 14 points in 27 minutes and contributing with four rebounds.

Point guard Dorian Green wants to focus on defense when CSU goes up against the conference’s second-leading scorer, Will Clyburn.

“We need to get back to our bread and butter, and when we were winning that was defense,” Green said. “For us it’s to make everything difficult for (Clyburn), and if we do that maybe we have a chance of making him struggle a bit.”

Clyburn leads the Utes (13-15, 6-8 MWC) in almost every statistical category including points per game (17.9), rebounding and field goal percentage.

Offensively, the Rams have been unable to shoot consistently from outside the three-point line, leaving the scoring load for senior forward Andy Ogide.

“Even though a lot of our shots haven’t been falling, some people have still been staying aggressive,” Smith said. “One of these nights some things are going to fall.”

Utah comes in with a streak of its own, winners of the last three games.

“I think they’re playing defense better than ever is the way I see it,” CSU coach Tim Miles said. “We’ve struggled from the outside, so I expect a good ball game.”
A win tonight against Utah would set a CSU record for most conference victories in a season at nine and would be the first team to reach 19 wins since the 2002-03 season.

Tipoff is set for 7:15 p.m.

Assistant Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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