It’s gut-check time.
Beginning a two-game home stand that could make or break its season, the CSU men’s basketball team will take on coach Rick Majerus and his Utah Utes in Moby Arena Saturday, before facing Brigham Young at home on Monday.
Utah (16-4 overall, 4-1 Mountain West Conference) is tied for first place in the conference with BYU and Wyoming, and is riding a four-game win streak. More importantly, the Utes accomplished what no other team had done in years: defeat BYU in Provo.
The Utes broke the Cougar’s 44-game home winning streak on Jan. 25, and in doing so established the Utes’ place among the frontrunners of the conference.
“Those guys are good,” Rams’ swingman Ronnie Clark said. “It’s going to be a tough game for us, but if we take both these games we’re right back in it.”
On a West Coast road trip last weekend, the Rams (14-6, 3-2) went from the high of defeating a solid San Diego State team, to the low of suffering its worst loss in seven years at the hands of UNLV, a 33-point defeat.
“We played piss-poor,” Clark said. “It’s not a reflection of who are.”
But bouncing back against the Utes won’t be easy. Three Ute players – guard Nick Jacobson, forward Britton Johnsen and center Cameron Koford – all average over 12 points per game and lead a balanced offensive attack.
And although the Rams lead the conference in scoring at 78.1 points per game, they will be going up against the MWC’s second-leading scoring defense.
“They’re not that quick, but they are one of the smartest teams,” said Matt Nelson, the Rams’ center who is struggling with both knee and ankle injuries, but is expected to play. “We’re one game out of the top spot so we need to stay in the hunt. Anything can happen in conference.”
Fortunately for the Rams, both games will be played in the confines of Moby Arena, where CSU has posted a 13-1 record this season. The last time the Rams had only one home loss in a season was 1990, which also happens to be the last year CSU made the NCAA Tournament.
“Utah and BYU are playing better than anyone,” head coach Dale Layer said during his weekly radio show. “Utah has done something no one has done the last five or six years, which is win in the Marriott Center against BYU.”
The Cougars will roll into Fort Collins on Monday after a their contest with Wyoming on Saturday.
There’s little doubt that when the dust clears after this string of conference games, there could be some teams left out of the post-season picture in the MWC.