Rams travel to Boulder in search of third-straight victory over the Buffs

Eddie Herz

The Colorado State Rams will look to maintain their winning record Saturday afternoon when they travel to Boulder for an annual rivalry matchup with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The Rams have been victorious in the previous two Rocky Mountain Showdowns on the hardwood.

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Last season, CSU defeated CU at Moby Arena 72-63. A year prior, the Rams went into Boulder and knocked off the Buffaloes 72-58 as significant underdogs prior to the contest. 

CSU guard J.D. Paige hits a shot over CU guard McKinley Wright. The Rams defeated the Buffaloes 72-63. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Overall, the rivalry has been extremely competitive over the last decade at the interstate rivals have split the last 10 meetings, dating back to the 2008-09 season.

Following a hot start to Niko Medved’s first season as head coach in Fort Collins, the Rams have struggled. CSU began the season by winning its first three games. Since then, the Rams have dropped three of their last four games. Most recently, CSU was defeated by Southern Illinois 82-67 at Moby Arena Tuesday night. 

Early on, Medved’s guard-heavy roster developed a tendency of settling for outside shots. CSU is shooting 36.4 percent from the three-point range on an average of 26 attempts per game, eight more than their matchup against the Buffs last year.

CSU averages 80 points per game with six players averaging double-digit scoring totals.

Defensively, the Rams have struggled due to an inability to limit opposing teams in the paint. CSU was out-scored 44-20 in the paint Tuesday against SIU, largely the difference in the game.

“We go down to Boulder on Saturday,” Medved said. “We better embrace it and figure out how we are going to grow and get better.”

Regardless of the recent struggles, history indicated that records and previous games don’t mean much in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

“If we are not pumped up and enthusiastic for that game, then we have a big problem,” redshirt junior Anthony Masinton-Bonner said. “But I know these guys top to bottom. I know we’ll be ready for that game, ready to bounce back. It’s always a fun game to be in. It’s just on us to come out firing.” 

Anthony Bonner (15) during the Mountain West Tournament on March 7. (Tony Villalobos May | Collegian)

Besides Masinton-Bonner, other key players have learned what it takes to succeed in a highly anticipated rivalry. Redshirt junior forward Nico Carvacho and redshirt senior guard J.D. Paige also contributed to the back-to-back victories over CU.

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But there are plenty of new faces on CSU’s roster who haven’t played in an environment quite like the one they will on Saturday.

“I remember the older guys telling me when you get out there play your game,” Bonner said. “It’s nothing new. Just another game. Large venue, a lot of fans. But, those are the moments you play the game for, big moments like that.”

The Buffaloes feature a similar roster to last season’s team, which finished 17-15 overall and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second-consecutive season.

Although many key players returned to Boulder, CU lost a significant amount of production from forward George King’s departure. King led the Buffaloes with 7.8 rebounds per game last season and also finished second on the team in scoring.

Freshman forward and former four-star recruit Evan Battey has been in charge of compensating for the loss of King. Battey is averaging 8.8 points per game in his first collegiate season, second on CU.

The trio of senior guard Namon Wright, junior forward Lucas Siewert and sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV have embraced larger roles as the teams’ most consistent players to date. The three have accounted for nearly half of the Buffs’ scoring combined.

The Rams and Buffaloes will tip off at just after 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the CU Event Center. The 2018 basketball Rocky Mountain Showdown can be seen on Pac 12 Network, and listened to on KARS 102.9 FM.

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.