When the Rams step on the floor tonight against UNLV in their Mountain West Championships second round game, they will be tasked with defeating the Rebels in their own building.
It’s something that has only been done twice this season through UNLV’s first 19 home games, but the Rams insist the pressure isn’t on them.
“The pressure is on (UNLV) coach (Dave) Rice,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said.
“I mean, it’s not a fun situation to be in as a coach, I’ve been there before. I’m not sure if you really asked him if he wouldn’t prefer having it somewhere else because it just puts the pressure on the home team.”
The Rams advanced to the second round of the tournament for the second consecutive year after a gritty 67-61 victory over Fresno State, the tournament’s seventh seed on Wednesday.
CSU played in that game without the help of its second-leading scorer, senior guard Dorian Green, who was nursing an injured right ankle. Eustachy said on Wednesday that he was 99.9 percent sure that the Rams will be without Green’s services tonight as well.
Eustachy made the decision to bench Green because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his star’s health right before the NCAA tournament starts next Thursday.
“This tournament is extremely important, but obviously the NCAA tournament is what we’ve worked for all year,” Eustachy said. “If there’s any doubt at all, he won’t play.”
The Rams struggled at times offensively against Fresno State without Green, particularly in the first half when they only shot 34.6 percent.
The Rebels, on the other hand, had no problems scoring in their 72-56 victory over Air Force in the first round of the tournament.
Freshman forward Anthony Bennett led UNLV with 23 points, 19 of which came in a second half that featured complete domination by the Rebels.
“He’s as unselfish a player as I’ve ever been around,” Rice said. “He’s all about team. He made a great commitment on the defensive end.”
In order to have success against UNLV, the Rams will need to eliminate their offensive slumps and keep up with the torrid pace the Rebels will likely set, a challenge that will involve every Ram on the floor.
“This is a team together,” senior guard Wes Eikmeier said. “We’re all one unit, when we’re all clicking, it’s something good.”
If it all comes together for CSU tonight in Las Vegas, it will have the opportunity to play for the Mountain West Conference Championship Saturday afternoon, something CSU hasn’t done since 2003.
“We’re not going to back down,” CSU sophomore guard Daniel Bejarano said. “We can take on any challenge, we have a great team. Anyone can step up at any given time.
Assistant Sports Editor Andrew Schaller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.