With 18 games and 13 home victories under their belt, the Rams of CSU men’s basketball are ready to take their high-scoring show on the road.
The Rams (13-5, 2-1) travel to San Diego to take on the Aztecs (11-6, 2-2 Mountain West Conference) of San Diego State University Saturday at 7 p.m., followed by a game against UNLV (12-5, 1-3) Monday night in Las Vegas.
For the Rams, the challenge will be figuring how to make their conference-leading 78.4 points per game and 51.7 field goal percentage stand up away from Moby Arena.
“Our team is better now than it was the last time we were on the road,” said head coach Dale Layer, whose Rams haven’t played a road game since a 92-73 thumping at the University of Colorado Jan. 7. “That is the next hurdle for this team.”
In San Diego, the Rams will face a tough Aztecs team looking to rebound from back-to-back conference losses to Brigham Young and New Mexico last week.
“We are on a two-game skid,” said San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher in a press conference Wednesday. “We have to find a way to beat a very good, confident Colorado State team on Saturday. But I’m excited; we’re coming back home and looking forward to a big crowd that is pro-San Diego State.”
In the contest the Rams will try to use all their offensive weapons – including double-figure scorers Matt Nelson (14.9 points per game), Brian Greene (13.6), Ronnie Clark (13.3) and Andy Birley (11.6) – to keep the Aztecs guessing.
“They have a multitude of ways they can hurt you offensively,” Fisher said. “Initially you say stop Birley and Greene, and you look at the Wyoming game and Matt Nelson had 27 points, 11-of-17 from the field.”
Though the team has been shooting well from the field, it has been free-throw shooting that has hurt the Rams, especially in Saturday’s game against Wyoming when the Rams missed eight of 18 free throw attempts en route to a 79-77 loss.
“Free throws were a big part of (the loss),” Layer said. “We didn’t have guys step up and make the big free throws.”
Thus far in conference play, the Rams are averaging an uncharacteristic 52 percent from the line, and to end a three-game losing streak to San Diego State the team knows it needs to better that number.
“We’re in a little funk right now shooting free throws,” Greene said. “It might be fatigue, but we’re a good free throw shooting team, so I know we’ll get it back.”
At the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, the Rams face a UNLV team that is determined to prove it is better than its 1-3 conference record.
The Runnin’ Rebels won their first conference game Monday at The Pit in New Mexico, overcoming a 40-point effort from Lobos guard Rueben Douglas to win 75-66.
A road win against UNLV, who is 9-2 at home this season, would be big for a Rams team looking to nudge its way in to postseason play for the first time since 1998-99.
“We just have to focus on what we have to do and not worry about being on the road,” said sophomore forward Matt Williams. “I think we have matured enough to take our game on the road.”
Fisher and company should get a good taste of that maturity Saturday.