With CSU squaring off against Wyoming in both men’s and women’s basketball Saturday, the Rams have their work cut out for them against their oldest rival.
On the men’s side, the Rams (12-8, 4-3 MW) are fighting to stay in contention for a high finish in the conference. Last season, CSU dropped both its games with the Cowboys, who went on to win the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas after finishing 11-7 in the league for fourth place.
This year, though, Wyoming (10-12, 3-6 MW) is likely out of the race for the conference at this point in the season. But that means winning the Border War will be an even greater point of pride for the Pokes, and especially for their lone senior and scoring machine Josh Adams. Coming into Saturday’s 4 p.m. tipoff, the Cowboys will be riding a three-game losing streak – one of which they played without Adams due to suspension – so they are hungry for a win.
On the women’s side, CSU will be playing to keep its historical start to the season alive. The Cowgirls will come into Moby Arena to face a CSU team on a 14-game winning streak that dates back to Nov. 24. The Rams’ 17-1 record marks their best start to the season since the 1998-99 season, when the Rams started 31-1 with legendary guard Becky Hammon at the helm. The women’s game will tipoff in Moby at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Here are the keys for both CSU teams:
Keep Wyoming’s stars in check
Both the Cowboys and Cowgirls boast some serious studs on their rosters. For the men, UW guard Josh Adams is one of the most explosive players in the country. He sits at fourth in the nation in scoring average with 25.0 points per game, and also leads the Cowboys in rebounds per game (5.7), assists (3.7) and steals (1.2).
“A good player like that is going to score,” CSU guard John Gillon said. “He’s going to make baskets. But our job as a defense is to make it tough on him. As point guards, I know I’ll have to match up with him at times, so I’m just going to do the best I can on him.”
Expect CSU to stick to its normal defensive scheme, though, and not try to focus too much solely on Adams. Junior guard Jason McManamen can hurt teams for UW, too, as he averages 12.5 points per game and plays well off the ball
“McManamen, if you just key on Adams, he’ll kill you,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “They can spread you, they’re going to run some almost false motion, and defending in the last 10 seconds (of the shot clock) is going to be key.”
The CSU women will have to stop guard Marquelle Dent to keep their winning streak alive. This season, the speedy Dent is averaging 17.6 points per contest for a rank of third in the MW. She is also leading the league in assists per game (3.6). Look for CSU guard Keyora Wharry to use her own athleticism to keep Dent’s quickness in check.
Stay calm in late game situations
Since CSU seems to always be in tight games down the stretch, the Rams must keep their poise in the big moments. Specifically, that means get good shots, and don’t rush anything. Eustachy said his team’s wins in close games have largely come after one big play that his team feeds off of. Wednesday night, that play was an Antwan Scott steal and fast break for an and-one en route to a win over San Jose State.
Taking the right shot will be crucial, something Scott struggled with earlier in the year. But since he has been focused on getting open looks lately, Scott has been lighting it up. He went for 23 points against SJSU, and is averaging 28.3 points per game over the last three contests.
“I went through some slumps,” Scott said. “Coach said I was forcing it, I wasn’t letting it come to me. There’s been games where I’ve taken really, really bad shots. … I know last night (against SJSU) I took a couple bad shots, but lately I’ve been trying to let the game come to me and that’s been able to help me.”
The women will have to focus on controlling the game at their own pace as well. In their narrow win on the road against San Jose State, the Rams played at the frantic pace of the Spartans and found themselves in a shootout. They barely escaped with a win.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.