Jan 052004
 
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

Denver — Inside and outside, CSU could not be beat Saturday.

Playing at the Pepsi Center, home of the 2004 Mountain West

Conference basketball tournament, the Rams came out using their

size and strength inside and finished showing their range from

outside in a 91-65 trouncing of Pepperdine.

In their first game since a dramatic 71-69 win over 21st-ranked

Purdue Dec. 30 at Moby Arena, the Rams continued playing with

confidence while facing a Pepperdine (5-9) team in the midst of a

five-game road trip including a three-day tournament in

Honolulu.

“I thought we ran into a tired Pepperdine team today,” said CSU

head coach Dale Layer, whose team improved to 8-4 with the win.

With the victory the Rams extended their season-high winning

streak to four games and built more confidence as they prepare to

open conference play Jan. 12 against Air Force at Moby.

“I think the Purdue win and the Florida trip has been good for

our team’s confidence,” Layer said. “We’ve been more confident and

focused during the streak.”

The Rams jumped out to a big lead on the Waves, thanks in part

to the inside play of center Matt Nelson who used his 7-foot frame

to dominate inside.

“We tried to pound them inside early,” said Nelson, who led the

Rams with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting. “Coach was saying that

this is a flow team and we needed to take them out of their rhythm.

… We did that.”

The Waves cut an early 10-1 CSU lead in half, but would get no

closer as CSU got a pair of free throws from forward Ronnie Clark,

a dunk from Nelson and a layup from Matt Williams to go up 16-5

eight minutes into the first half.

With fatigue setting in, the Waves struggled to take advantage

of some open looks and finished the first half shooting 6-for-23

from the floor (26.1 percent). The lone highlights for the Waves

came on crowd-pleasing ally-oop dunks by guards Terrance Johnson

and Robert Turner, which brought the crowd of 3,417 to its

feet.

The Rams took a 44-22 lead into the half but knew they needed to

stay focused to avoid a second-half rally from the Waves.

“We were talking about how we can’t let a team like this get

back into the game,” Nelson said. “We definitely used our size as

an advantage.”

Indeed they did. CSU again came out in the second half pounding

the ball inside to Nelson and controlling the glass. The Rams

outrebounded Pepperdine 43-33 and had 14 offensive rebounds that

led to easy put-backs and layups.

Pepperdine, however, did not relent and attempted to battle

back.

Down 59-29 with 13 minutes to play, Johnson hit a 3-pointer and

the Waves mounted an 18-6 rally that brought them within 15 points

with 8 minutes to play. Then CSU’s perimeter shooters began to heat

up.

“The perimeter guys played well today,” Layer said.

“Our guards were scrapping,” Nelson added. “That helped us take

(Pepperdine) out of transition.”

Guard Jon Rakiecki, who sat out most of last season with several

ailments, had the hot hand and led a 17-9 CSU scoring run by

hitting four 3-pointers down the stretch. Rakiecki finished the

game with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.

Also scoring in double figures was Clark who finished with 10

points and a team-high eight rebounds for CSU.

For the Waves, forward Glen McGowan, thanks to 16-of-18 shooting

from the free throw line, had a team-high 20 points, while Johnson

(13) and Turner (12) also notched double figures.

The Rams headed to Montana next where the team played Montana

State Monday night, followed by a return trip to Moby to open

conference play.

“We’re playing well and with confidence,” Rakiecki said. “We got

to go into conference play with confidence. We got Montana State

Monday. If we get a win there, our confidence will be sky

high.”

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