The Colorado State men’s basketball team cannot afford any mistakes from here on out.
That means taking care of business at home Saturday against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (13-9, 4-5 MW). The game is set to tip-off at 2 p.m. and will be broadcasted on CBS Sports Network. It is the only time the teams will meet this season.
The Rams (19-4, 6-4 MW) are coming off a disappointing performance on the road against Wyoming that all but eliminated their chance of winning the Mountain West regular season title. But, CSU can still land a spot in the NCAA tournament if they finish the season strong.
Up next is a talent-rich UNLV team riding a three-game winning streak. The Rebels are led by freshman Rashad Vaughn, a projected first-round pick who is third in the conference in scoring at 17.2 points per game.
Head coach Dave Rice’s squad also features another NBA prospect in Christian Wood, who comes into the game averaging 14.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. The sophomore forward has posted double-doubles in his last two outings.
“These guys are the most talented team in the league,” CSU forward Stanton Kidd said. “They have got two draft picks on that team. They are going to come in to beat us. We only play them once this year so they are going to really want to get that game.”
In order to hold off the Rebels, CSU cannot afford a repeat of the shooting performance it put on in Laramie Wednesday night. The Rams went 3-for-25 from behind the arc and 9-for-17 from the free throw line, but the team is considering the off night to be an aberration.
“I honestly can’t see us shooting the ball that poorly ever again,” sophomore guard John Gillon said. “All of us being off on one night is just very rare.”
Head coach Larry Eustachy had actually predicted that his team would suffer a defeat like that at some point in the season. He was just not sure when it would come.
But with so little room for error now, the Rams cannot risk letting it happen again. Kidd stayed late after practice Thursday to get some extra shots up, and said the team is confident that it can get back on track shooting the ball.
Kidd, who is averaging 11.7 points per game, did say that things could have been done a bit differently.
“We weren’t who we are yesterday,” Kidd said. “We were coming down and shooting shots after one or two passes. That’s not what we do. We work the ball around, get a paint touch, get a post touch. We play inside-out. We were outside-in yesterday, and it cost us.”
UNLV dropped three straight games in January to Boise State, San Diego State and New Mexico. The common theme in those games was that the Rebels’ opponents attacked the basket and got to the foul line, rather than taking a high volume of outside shots.
To get to the hole, the Rams will have to go through one of the MW’s premier rim protectors in Goodluck Okonoboh, who leads the conference with 58 total blocks. Wood, his teammate, is just one behind him with 57. The tandem combine to average more than five blocks per game.
“Coach told us that they are the most talented team in the league,” Gillon said. “They can get it going on any night, so we just have to make sure we account for their size and the talent they have.”
CSU has already dropped four games in MW play. UNLV at home is a must-win, especially since it is followed by a tough three-game stretch against UNM, at San Diego State and at Fresno State.
For the Rams, Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against the Rebels will also be an “Orange-Out” at Moby Arena.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.