Basketball Border War means more with better teams

Senior center Colton Iverson calls for the ball against junior Gerson Santo in practice. CSU play Wyoming Saturday at 5 p.m.
Senior center Colton Iverson calls for the ball against junior Gerson Santo in practice. CSU play Wyoming Saturday at 5 p.m.

Neither side wants to admit it, but Saturday’s Border War has the feel of a big game.

Moby Arena is expected to sell out and both CSU and Wyoming have plenty at stake. The Rams are in the middle of a battle for first place in the Mountain West standings, and the Cowboys are just trying to regain their form, losing five of their last seven games after starting the season 13-0.

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But more than anything, the 2013 Border War pits the two best teams each program’s put forth in years.

“Since I’ve gotten here, it’s just gotten bigger every year,” senior Wes Eikmeier said. “We were both kind of struggling programs when we all stepped foot on campus, and I think it’s just gotten bigger every year. It means a lot to the university and the students, so that’s where we take pride.”

You don’t have to look hard to figure out why both programs have reached a level of success. It starts with coaching. CSU coach Larry Eustachy and Wyoming’s Larry Shyatt have made never-quit defense the backbone of their teams, and the results are evident.

Wyoming ranks first in the MW in scoring defense, limiting teams to 55 points per game. The Cowboys won their first 13 games in a row, remaining one of the last unbeaten teams in the country.

“I think that they really guard, but also they play probably fewer possessions … thus you’re going to have lower scoring,” Eustachy said. “And it’s something they probably have to do because they’ve lost a few guys. Larry Shyatt’s as good a coach, not in the league, as there is in the country. They’re certainly not going to beat themselves.”

Similarly, CSU controls games through defense giving up an even 60 points a contest, third in the conference, and boasting the nation’s third best rebounding team. The Rams held 12 teams to 58 points or fewer this season by limiting the opposition’s chances.

“The Colorado State, Wyoming Border War’s always been a solid rivalry, and hopefully it will continue,” Shyatt said during his weekly teleconference. “(CSU is) terrific because I remember all the players from last year, and the new staff has done an incredible job building their own culture, and winning and winning, quite honestly, at a pace unlike many in this league.”

With wins hard to come by lately, Wyoming is approaching every game with the mindset of it being a big game, according to senior guard Derrious Gilmore. With an NCAA Tournament berth still a possibility, facing opponents like CSU is an opportunity to add to their resume.

“I believe it’s going to be a great game. … It’s going to be a big game, a rivalry game,” Gilmore said. “Both squads are competitive, especially on defense, we’re disciplined. I know (CSU) is a really good team, and I’m excited for the challenge.”