CSU must follow a simple template to avoid another Border War loss

Luke Zahlmann

Spanning back to 1911, Colorado State and Wyoming have brought their annual Border War to the hardwood.

In that time, Wyoming has held the advantage, with 134 wins compared to just 95 for the team south of the border. In their last 43 meetings dating back to 2000, the Rams have gone 19-23, falling to the Cowboys a majority of the time.

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As part of that span, Wyoming has also gone on streaks of five or more wins in a row twice. 

Forward Nico Carvacho (32) attempts a layup past a Wyoming defender on Jan. 31, 2018. The Rams lost 91-86 in double overtime. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

In the two team’s latest bout, the Rams fell 74-66 in Laramie, plagued by a 36-point effort from Justin James in his final year with the program.

For the Rams to reverse their current two-game losing streak in the Border War, limiting James will be one of several keys.

Limit the impact James makes

With all of the hype that rightfully surrounds Nevada in their trek towards a top seed in the tournament, one would think Jordan Caroline or Caleb Martin leads the conference in scoring. At 20.9 points per game, the real apex of the scoring leaderboard is James.

In the two teams’ first matchup James padded that total, besting his season average with his aforementioned season-high 36-point outburst. His success was a byproduct of a 10-of-14 mark from the field, sinking 11-of-12 attempts from the free-throw line to boot.

Where James killed the Rams was in isolation.

On the perimeter and from midrange, James had his way, scoring at will. Though a handful of his attempts were contested, James still converted.

“You’ve got to play more physical,” Medved said after the first loss against Wyoming. “We would guard him and then late in the clock, we would allow him to just beat us off the dribble… We were hoping that would miss instead of trying to make them miss.”

A big key for the Rams to avoid James’ acrobatic conversions is stoking the fires early. The Cowboys’ guard had 14 points at halftime alone, lending to an explosion in the second half. A trio of other scorers for Wyoming was able to generate a make from outside, garnering further room for James to operate.

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If Medved’s squad has any hopes of overcoming their losing spree to the Cowboys, concealing James and forcing others to beat them will be crucial.

Let Carvacho take hold of the reigns

As the “Big Chile” finds his way on the court, so too do the Rams.

Among his myriad of dominant outings this year, Nico Carvacho has accrued 17 double-doubles, passing Emmanuel Omogbo for the program record.

Nico Carvacho attempts to push past a Wolfpack guard during the game against No. 6 Nevada Feb. 6. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Among his season averages, his scoring (15.9) and nation-leading rebounding (13) both stand out. His scoring output sits at ninth in the conference. 

As Medved would put it, Carvacho has played with his “hair on fire” this year, a feat that he completed in their last loss. His 15-point, 17-rebound effort went to waste as only three players scored seven or more points sans J.D. Paige’s 22-point mark.

The Cowboys are without a defender capable of limiting the big man. Taking advantage of the mismatch is pivotal for the Rams to find success, especially with another conference-leading tyrant on the other end in James.

Hug the 3-point line

As a middle-of-the-pack team from beyond the arc, Wyoming wasn’t supposed to drill over half of their attempts from deep in the first matchup.

They did, hitting 54.2 percent, with their 39 points from outside serving as a catalyst for their defeat over the visiting Rams. To ensure they juxtapose their prior loss, the Rams need to control their opposition’s success from deep.

Unfortunately for the Rams, their woes against the Cowboys weren’t anomalous.

On the year, Medved’s squad has allowed opposing teams to nail 37.2 percent of their attempts from outside, the worst mark in the conference.

With Trace Young, Hunter Thompson and the aforementioned James lurking on the outside, the Rams backcourt will need to swarm. Carvacho has shown many times that he is a force down low, warding off driving lanes, but his teammates buoying the team’s blockage from the outside will be pivotal.

Modifying their approach to defense outside will be important, not only for their chances against the Cowboys but also their final stretch of the year.

“Our mentality has to be grind it out, play tough, fight every possession and take no possessions off,” Kris Martin said. “(If we do that), I think we’ll have success.”  

The easiest way to get upset on your home floor is allowing teams to get hot, a fate that is all too common for the Rams this year.

Ignite the Moby faithful

In a rivalry, the first crowd plays a sizable role. As shown by their loss in Wyoming, an electric crowd pays dividends.

Fans talking
Fans watch the CSU basketball while drinking beer at the new CSU party porch in Moby arena. (Devin Cornelius | Collegian)

Thus far for the Rams, their draw for fans has been modest. At a mere 2,584 average attendance, the hosts of Saturday’s contest are ninth in the conference in fan influence, a far cry from the oft-used “Moby Madness” moniker.

Whether it’s a Paige streak from outside early, an Anthony Masinton-Bonner breakout from the bench or an early fast break from Kendle Moore, the Rams need to generate momentum. Adorned in orange, noise from their fanbase would augment their runs.

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.