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3 keys for Rams to upset San Diego State

Staying focused and playing together as a team is often easier said than done.

In Colorado State’s case, youth and inexperience make this even more difficult.

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The Rams head home to face the 14-9 (6-4) San Diego State Aztecs Tuesday night after recently losing two consecutive Mountain West games. The two previous contests played out much differently but featured similar themes that CSU will need to focus on to win against SDSU.

Let’s take a look at three key goals that could lead to the Rams’ 10th victory of the season.

1. Respond to lack of effort with intense, high energy play.

Considering the level of talent in Reno, it is difficult to pin lack of effort as a culprit in the Nevada loss last week. However, both CSU players and coaches acknowledged stagnant play as a contributing factor to the 74-66 loss in Laramie Saturday.

The Cowboys entered the game with an 8-15 (1-8) record. Dominating an entire game is rare for Wyoming. Nevertheless, the Cowboys did just that against the Rams.

“(Energy) is something we can all control within ourselves and something we definitely need to work on. It is definitely frustrating.”Nico Carvacho

Justin James, who scored 36 points on 10-14 shooting against CSU, is an apparent matchup problem for every team who plays Wyoming. The Cowboys’ up-tempo play can be hard for opposing teams to keep up with.

Wyoming’s Justin James (1) attempts a layup after dribbling past Che Bob (10) Jan. 31, 2017. The Rams lost 91-86 in double overtime. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

However, Wyoming is remarkably less-efficient shooting the ball than CSU and, as a result, score far fewer points than the green and gold. One of the Rams’ most significant issues this season is rebounding, but Wyoming controls the glass less than CSU.

On paper, beating the Cowboys shouldn’t have been an issue. Regardless, statistics don’t reflect the desire to win. While the Cowboys deserve credit for winning, it’s evident the Rams were outworked on Saturday and played with less motivation than their counterpart.

“(Energy) is something we can all control within ourselves and something we definitely need to work on,” redshirt junior center Nico Carvacho said. “It is definitely frustrating.”

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After leaving everything on the court against Nevada earlier in the week, the Rams appeared to be out of gas on Saturday, costing them a win they needed. Luckily for CSU, they won’t have to sulk in defeat for very long.

“That is the only bright side, we have a quick turnaround,” Carvacho said. “We’ll come in tomorrow and watch film, walk-through, have a good practice Monday then tip off at 9 p.m. (Tuesday).”

2. Prioritize closing out on the perimeter. 

The Rams have played from behind in their last two games largely due to a lack of adequate defense beyond the 3-point line.

CSU unsuccessfully contested a few 3-point scores by Nevada and Wyoming early on, but for the most part, CSU often was late to the ball around the perimeter. The Wolf Pack converted their first five attempts from deep, while Wyoming sunk seven consecutive 3-point shots to begin last Saturday’s game.

Coach Niko Medved yells from the sideline during the game against No. 6 Nevada Feb. 6. The Rams fell to the Wolfpack 98-82. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Closing out on SDSU’s shooters will be a focal point for the Rams on Tuesday. Though not particularly lethal from downtown, the Aztecs average nearly eight 3-pointers per game, which is enough to do some damage.

“Our mindset was not very good,” Head Coach Niko Medved said following the Wyoming loss. “We were hoping that they would miss instead of making them miss. That’s not going to go very well.”

3. Force frequent Aztec turnovers. 

As underdogs against the Aztecs, the Rams will need to play to their strengths on Tuesday night. One of the advantages CSU holds over SDSU is the ability to avoid miscues offensively.

The green and gold’s average turnovers per game rank within the top 60 in the nation. The Aztecs turnover the ball about 13 times per game, the 122nd mark in college basketball.

This is only approximately 1.5 turnovers more per game than CSU. That may not seem like much, but recent history indicates SDSU has a lot of trouble winning games when it turns the ball over more than its opponent.

The Aztecs have only picked up three victories this season when turning the ball over at a higher rate than their opposition, and only once in Mountain West play.

Carvacho lay-up
Nico Carvacho (32) with two of his 12 total points after a fast-break steal lay-up during the first half of the Rams’ 76-71 loss to the Falcons. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Inducing frequent turnovers on Tuesday could also inhibit SDSU from finding a rhythm at Moby Arena. Ideally for Medved’s group, forcing the issue defensively in the beginning stages will result in CSU playing with a lead for the first time in a while.

It is necessary for the Rams to exhibit some grit if they want to pick up a victory against the Aztecs.

“Whether you come off the bench or you are in the starting rotation it doesn’t matter,” Medved said. “Everybody that plays has to bring the right mindset. Whether you start, whether you come off the bench, whatever it is. You have to play with an edge and have to bring something to the team.”

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

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