More than just a conference tournament championship is on the line as CSU begins the Mountain West tournament today against Air Force in Las Vegas.
No. 20 CSU (23-5 overall, 12-2 MWC) is one of the teams closest to earning a top four seed in the NCAA tournament, and with a tournament championship a hosting opportunity would not be out of the question.
“The Mountain West has done a lot this year to make a case for multiple seeds,” said head coach Tom Collen. “We deserve to host some tournament games.”
First CSU must get by Air Force before even thinking of the conference championship of the NCAA tournament.
The Rams won both meetings against the Falcons this year, including an 84-40 mauling at home. Yet when CSU traveled to Air Force (4-23, 0-14) the game was tight with CSU winning 63-55. In that game Air Force led deep into the second half before falling.
“They don’t have anything to lose, and the one thing they did in both games was play hard,” Collen said.
The Falcons are led by Amoy Jackson, who averages 10.4 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. Guard Latoya Howell, who led the team in scoring in both games against CSU, leads the MWC with 3.3 steals per game.
CSU won the league tournament last year, but know it will be difficult to repeat.
“We are going to go down there with a target on our back; some of these teams are fighting for their lives,” Collen said.
The tournament’s location could also be a little motivation for the Rams, Collen said.
“If we get by the Air Force game, playing UNLV on their home floor will be a challenge,” Collen said. “But I think we’ll relish that challenge, considering what happened when we went there earlier in the year.”
UNLV dismantled CSU, 71-59, in the regular season match in Las Vegas. It was arguably the worst road loss of the year for the Rams. UNLV plays Utah in the first round of the tournament, and would meet the winner of the CSU-Air Force game in the second round.
Collen said CSU should expect no worse than a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, and a tournament victory would put his team in a good position for a No. 4 seed and a conveyed hosting opportunity.
Hosting would also give the Rams’ lone senior, guard Angie Gorton, a chance for two more games at home. She knows the team can’t look that far ahead because it could spell doom when playing a team like Air Force.
“We definitely have the talent to win, it’s just coming to play,” Gorton said. n