Dec 122002
 
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

The teams from mid-major conferences have come and gone, now its time for CSU’s men’s basketball team to see how it can fare against the big boys.

Boasting a 7-2 record and the highest scoring average in the Mountain West Conference with 82.6 points per game, the Rams look to add to their early season success with a win against the Cougars of Washington State (3-3) Saturday at Moby Arena.

Though the Rams hold an impressive seven-game winning streak against the Cougars and a 7-1 series advantage, the team knows there is little room for error against the streaky Cougars.

Having won three in a row and scored 90 points in back-to-back games for the first time since the 1995-96 season, the Rams appear to be in the midst of something great. But Layer said there is still plenty the team needs to work on.

“Our interior defense is not as good as it has been and that’s something we need to improve on,” he said. “Turnovers are an area of concern and that is something we will continue to work on.”

Defensively the Rams will look to stop Marcus Moore, a junior guard from Washington State who ranks in the top-five nationally in scoring with 22.8 points per game.

As for the Cougars, they will look to control CSU’s slew of double-figure scorers consisting of guard Andy Birley (14.3 pointer per game), forward Brian Greene (13.6), swingman Ronnie Clark (13.3) and center Matt Nelson (12), while trying to contain freshman point guard Micheal Morris, whose 41 assists leads the team.

With Nelson now playing at about 90 percent and several other injured players on the mend, Layer said he expects the team to continue to improve.

“We have Matt (Nelson) out there getting more touches and repetitions,” Layer said. “He’s really starting to get in the flow of the game.”

Even though he is playing everyday, Nelson said he is taking his recovery from an ankle sprain day-by-day.

“I’m just taking baby steps right now,” the 7-foot sophomore said. “I take it one day at a time and just hope to keep going.”

His players’ health has constituted a big part of the team’s success, but Layer added that players coming off the bench are also starting to make an impact.

“Quantone Smith coming off the bench has been big for us,” Layer said. “We’ve had back-to-back big games from Q.”

Back in a reserve role now that Nelson has returned to his starting position, Smith said he enjoys the challenge of coming in off the bench and being a source of energy for his team.

“This is what they expect of me, to be an energy guy off the bench,” said Smith, who has scored 23 points combined over the last two games. “My job is to get the most out of my role every night.”

Following Saturday’s 1 p.m., contest and a break for finals week, the Rams return to Moby Dec. 22 to face the Gamecocks of South Carolina.

CSU has one more contest in Moby – Dec. 27 against Prairie View A&M – before traveling to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on the Boilermakers of Purdue Dec. 30. Following a home contest Jan. 3 against South Florida and a game in Boulder against Colorado Jan. 7, the Rams will open conference play in Moby against the New Mexico – a game scheduled to be televised on ESPN.

By that time, fans may know whether the Rams can handle the big boys.

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