Even after conquering the GCI Great Alaska Shootout in their first road trip of the season, the Colorado State men’s basketball team still have a big chip on their shoulder.
They find themselves facing another staunch test Wednesday night in their return to Moby Arena when they take on Texas-El Paso (4-1), who received votes in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll.
“We don’t get any of the respect we deserve,” senior guard Daniel Bejarano said. “We have to earn it.”
The Miners got the best of the Rams last year with an 82-74 victory in El Paso, and will look to hand CSU (6-0) their first loss of the season.
It is a familiar matchup for CSU head coach Larry Eustachy and UTEP head coach Tim Floyd. Their relationship dates back to 1986, when Eustachy became Floyd’s first hire at Idaho. They have split their two games during Eustachy’s time in Fort Collins.
“I respect him more than any coach in the country,” Eustachy said. “He’s been a huge impact in my life, not just on the court with coaching but off the court with personal things. It’s good to have him in town.”
Floyd’s team is led by sophomore forward Vince Hunter who is averaging 18.4 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.
After notching wins over Princeton and Xavier in the Wooden Legacy Tournament championship, the Miners fell just short to Washington in the championship game.
UTEP was forced to play big a lot last year, and they went back to it against the Huskies. Starting alongside the 6-foot-8 Hunter were Julian Washburn (6-foot-8), Cedrick Lang (6-foot-10) and Matt Wilms (7-foot-1).
“That doesn’t phase us,” Bejarano said. “They want to boost up the height but it doesn’t matter what size we’re going against.”
That type of height could be troublesome even for a defensive-minded team like CSU that has limited opponents to 42.2 percent shooting this year, but Eustachy did not sound too concerned.
“We’re not going to grow by tomorrow night,” Eustachy said. “We’re not going to be any taller. So we have to go with who we are and get better at it. I think the tougher team will win.”
Tiel Daniels played no more than 13 minutes in any of CSU’s three games in Alaska but might see more action Wednesday.
The Rams will need his help defending in the paint against a Miners team that does not shy away from contact. Hunter and Lang averaged a combined 15 free-throw attempts per game during the Wooden Legacy Tournament.
Fouls were an issue in last year’s game for CSU. They need to make sure leading scorer J.J. Avila (14.5 points per game) can stay out of foul trouble, as well as Bejarano (13.8) and Stanton Kidd (13.7).
“Up there (in El Paso) it was kind of fishy but that’s just how life goes sometimes,” Bejarano said. “There’s going to be refs and games like that. I just have to stay in the game, no matter how many fouls I have, and I believe I do a good job of that.”
Eustachy was quick to note how well Tim Floyd coached teams generally play following a loss, but he and Bejarano both pointed that there will not be any ounce of complacency on CSU’s end.
This Rams team still has a lot left to prove.
“We’re 6-0 but we’re not really satisfied,” Bejarano said. “We know we haven’t played our best basketball yet. We have a lot to work on and that’s fine with us. That’s what keeps us motivated.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.