The Border War is one of the most overlooked rivalries in college basketball. Rarely does it double as a deciding game in the Mountain West, but that might be the case when Colorado State men’s basketball tips off at Wyoming on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
It will be the second meeting between the teams with the Pokes having won one at Moby Arena in January. That is still the Rams only home loss of the season, and also marked CSU’s first home loss to Wyoming since 2009.
“They came here and did what they had to do, so we want to go back there and at least make it even,” senior guard Daniel Bejarano said.
The Rams have a chance for revenge in a game that could have serious implications. Wyoming currently rests atop the MW alongside San Diego State at 7-2 in league play. CSU sits one spot below in a tie with New Mexico at 6-3.
“We know where we’re at in the standings,” Bejarano said. “It’s just Wyoming. It’s just another game that is on our schedule. We know how good they are, we know what they are capable of, but it’s just a matter of going there and getting our game onto their court.”
It’s all about defending homecourt in the MW, and as Eustachy says, “stealing some on the road.” Sans the Wyoming loss, the Rams have held home court but have failed to steal any significant wins away from Fort Collins.
This is their chance.
But in the way is All-Mountain West forward Larry Nance Jr. and one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
The Pokes like to slow things down and get high percentage shots. Wyoming enters Wednesday’s contest shooting 48 percent from the field, which ranks No. 24 nationally.
“Unless they have something easy, like a duck-in by Nance, they really don’t try to score until the last 10 seconds of the shot clock,” Eustachy said. “So we have to use our defensive principles for long periods of time and, particularly late in the clock, we have got to play them right.”
Josh Adams is Wyoming’s primary facilitator, averaging 3.5 assists to go along with his 11.5 points per game. But it is Nance who remains the team’s centerpiece, averaging 16.2 points and seven rebounds per game. He is also currently the only MW player averaging at least one steal and one block per game.
“He’s got great timing to block shots,” Eustachy said. “Offensively, he’s got terrific hands. He can score. He likes to drive it right, but he can score from all parts of the court in different ways.”
Nance will be matched up with another one of the conference’s most-consistent players in J.J. Avila, who is averaging 15.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
The last time the two met, Avila dropped 23 points and pulled down 7 boards. However, he would be the only Ram in that game to reach double figures. Stanton Kidd, who was hampered by a sprained ankle at the time, scored 8 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Kidd appears to be finding his rhythm lately though, scoring at least 13 points in CSU’s last three games while shooting 54.2 percent.
“When Stanton’s not in foul trouble and Tiel (Daniels) is healthy, we’re hard to stop,” Avila said. “We’re hard to score on, too. That’s just a great defensive unit right there because we have so much size, length and athleticism.”
The Rams will have to be aggressive and set their own pace, even more so now that Wyoming’s backup big man, redshirt freshman Alan Herndon, is out indefinitely with mononucleosis.
“We are going to push it, especially since they are lacking a couple of guys,” Bejarano said. “We shoot well, but we want to take it in. We want to push it and see what we can get.”
Eustachy agreed that his team needs to keep their foot on the gas.
“We would like to speed it up,” Eustachy said. “You usually don’t want to do that on the road, but we would like to get in transition more. That doesn’t mean a quick shot, but make them accountable for guarding us. We would like to wear them down a little bit, but they don’t wear down easily.”
Not only is Wednesday’s game a pivotal conference matchup that could impact MW tournament seeding, and NCAA tournament bids, but it may also be the last time players like Bejarano, Avila and Kidd go against the Pokes.
“We don’t ever want to lose twice to a rival,” Bejarano said. “Especially to Wyoming.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.