Colorado State looking to get back on track against Utah State

Keegan Pope

The Colorado State men’s basketball team’s defense seemed to be turning a corner. Well at least until the Rams ran into UNLV Saturday night in Las Vegas. 

The Rebels, without their two best big men, dominated CSU on the offensive end en route to an 87-80 victory at the Thomas and Mack Center. 

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Again, the Rams had plenty of offense, nearly matching their season average points per game, but like it has so many times this year, defense did Larry Eustachy’s team in. 

CSU now sits at 14-11 overall and 6-6 in the Mountain West, and more importantly, the Rams are in sixth place in the league standings with six games to go. For what it’s worth, the top five teams heading into the conference tournament receive a first-round bye, while teams seeded No. 6-11 will play each other to determine second-round matchups. 

Head coach Larry Eustachy has said that playing in the first round has its advantages, but it can also lead to fatigue for teams who advance to the later rounds. 

That leads us to Wednesday night, when the Rams will travel to Logan, Utah to face ninth-place Utah State, who beat the Rams 96-92 in Fort Collins last month. A win for CSU would keep the Rams in the hunt for a top-five seed, but a loss puts them in jeopardy of falling into the bottom third of the standings during the homestretch of the conference season. 

Every game from this point is a must-win, and here’s how the Rams can upset the Aggies:

Slow down Chris Smith 

The last time these two teams played, Utah State guard Chris Smith was pretty much unstoppable. The Aggies’ senior guard scored 35 points and added 13 rebounds on 10 of 17 shooting. Smith hit 11 of his 12 free throws attempts and four of his seven shots from the 3-point line, shredding CSU’s defense from everywhere on the floor. As a whole, the Aggies shot an even 50 percent from the field and hit 48 percent from the 3-point line, one of their best shooting nights of the season. Smith seems to thrive against the Rams, setting a career-high against CSU last year before breaking it with his 35-point outburst in January. If the Rams want a chance to beat the Aggies, or really anyone in the league, they’ll have to be better on defense, and that starts Wednesday. 

Avoid turnovers

This one seems like common sense, and it is. Any time you turn the ball over 20-plus times in a game, you’re not going to have much success, and CSU proved with that 21 turnovers in its loss at UNLV. CSU hasn’t been turnover-prone this year, but seemed to be overwhelmed by the Rebels’ length and pressure. 

The Aggies don’t pressure very much, and CSU turned the ball over just five times in their previous matchup, but the Rams can’t afford to give the ball away on the road against a team that can make them pay for it like Utah State can. 

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Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at kpope@collegian.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.