The CSU Rams hope to hit the jackpot when they invade Las Vegas today at noon to play the Wyoming Cowboys in the Mountain West Conference tournament play-in game.
The last-place Rams still refuse to give up hope that they could produce a miracle by winning the conference tournament, and they feel they have precedent.
“CSU has a history of struggling during the regular season and doing well in the conference tournament, especially in the 2003 (the only CSU MWC tournament victory), and we are hoping to continue that this season,” said CSU coach Tim Miles. “We want to go out, play well and get some wins. If we make that happen I think that it will be a good payoff for a lot of hard work that this team has done this season.”
While the Rams acknowledge that their hopes to win the whole tournament are slim, the fact that they are matched-up with their archrival in the first game gives them hope.
“As a team we believe we can win, especially with our first game being against Wyoming. We have played them two times already and we know their tendencies and personnel,” said freshman forward Andre McFarland, who had his first career double-double Saturday against Utah. “We just have to step up and play good defense.”
Wyoming is led by a talented guard combo of Brandon Ewing (16.8 points per game) and Brad Jones (12.2 ppg), but it was forwards Joseph Taylor and Tyson Johnson that combined for 38 points in the Cowboys’ 77-67 win against the Rams in February.
The constantly undersized Rams, who will almost certainly be without center and lone senior Stuart Creason, know Wyoming will attempt to dominate on the inside, so they will have to attack other ways.
“It is going to be hard, since they have so much size, so we have to be prepared to help. With us as small as we are, we gotta get out and run to take advantage of our quickness,” said guard Marcus Walker, who
was named MWC newcomer of the year on Monday.
The 2003 Rams came into that tournament in Vegas as the sixth seed and won three straight games to take get the automatic NCAA tournament berth by beating Wyoming, BYU and UNLV. CSU went on to lose to Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The winner of the game will play top seeded BYU at 1 p.m. on Thursday.
Sports writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.