The men’s basketball team will bring its conference road schedule to a close tonight, as the Rams head to Salt Lake City, Utah, to meet the fifth-place Utah Utes (15-12, 6-8). The game is the capstone on a two-game swing that started with an 84-62 blowout in San Diego last Saturday.
The Utes haven’t been much of a conference powerhouse this season, (they are currently in a three-team tie for fifth) but that shouldn’t matter much for the 6-22, 0-14 Rams.
Of paramount importance for CSU is the crippling potential that they will be without senior center Stuart Creason, or junior point guard Willis Gardner.
Hobbled by a nagging stress fracture in his foot that limited him to a sluggish 23 minutes against SDSU, Creason’s availability will be a game time decision Tuesday. The same is true for Gardner, who separated his shoulder for the second time this season in last Saturday’s loss.
According to CSU coach Tim Miles, the team doctor determined that Gardner’s range of motion in his shoulder was actually better than the last time that he separated it two weeks ago. The news gives hope that he will be able to return to the team for the final two games. He is scheduled to have surgery on his shoulder after the conference tournament.
More damaging, however, is the possible loss of Creason. Already without a true power forward on the roster, losing Creason would leave the team without any centers to defend Utah’s Luke Nevill, the league’s tallest player at 7-foot-1.
“We’re going to have to adjust the way that we approach the game,” Miles said of the team’s strategy without Creason. “We have to use our strengths, which is in our perimeter play.”
In the absence of Creason, Miles will likely call on freshman Andre McFarland (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) and freshman Flynn Clayman (listed at a debatable 6-foot-9, 205 pounds in the media guide) to defend Nevill. Currently, Nevill is averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Offensively, the Rams will need every bit of production they can get from their stellar guards. Junior shooting guard Marcus Walker continues to lead the league in scoring, with an average of 19.6 points per game. Freshman Jesse Woodard has added 6.0 points per conference game this season, and the aforementioned McFarland puts up 7.6 points per game of his own.
In the end, if they are in fact without Creason, it could come down to a heroic effort on the offensive side if the Rams hope to snap their 15-game losing streak.
“To be honest with you, we’re going to have to do something extraordinary — make a whole bunch of 3s, be great defensively. Those are the things you have to do when you don’t have any power forwards or centers,” Miles said.
Players were unavailable for comment because of travel.
Game time is set for 7 p.m. MT in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sports writer Nick Hubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.