Rams look to snap funk, beat rival CU for third consecutive time on Saturday

Nico Carvacho goes up against Kavion Pippen. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.
Nico Carvacho goes up against Kavion Pippen. Credit: CSU Athletics Communications.

Third time’s a charm?

In an attempt to avoid their third consecutive loss, the Colorado State Rams will also seek their third consecutive victory over the University of Colorado on Saturday afternoon in Boulder (tip 1 p.m. MT).

The last time CSU traveled to Boulder, Emmanuel Omogbo led the 2016-17 Rams to a 72-58 upset victory over the Buffaloes, emphatically asking the media in attendance if they thought the Rams could win. Many didn’t. Last season, the green and gold knocked off CU 72-63 at Moby Arena.

The Rams have dropped three of their last four games following a perfect 3-0 start to the Niko Medved era. In CSU’s most recent loss against Southern Illinois, the team’s biggest concerns were exploited.

The Rams were doubled up 34-17 in the rebounding department during the 82-67 loss on Tuesday. The Salukis also held a significant 44-20 scoring advantage in the paint.

With an extremely guard-heavy roster, physical disadvantages have the potential of arising more often than not for Colorado State. This is especially the case when leading rebounder Nico Carvacho isn’t able to succeed on the boards. Though the forward is as averaging an even 10 rebounds per game, Carvacho only recorded three against SIU.

The Rams’ first three games, in which Medved’s bunch won by an average of 21 points, there were many more reasons to be optimistic than there have been over the past four games.

Regardless, records never seem to mean much in this coveted rivalry game. After all, the Rams were underdogs in their most recent victories over the Buffaloes.

“If we are not pumped up and enthusiastic for that game then we have a big problem,” redshirt junior guard Anthony Masinton-Bonner said of the CU game. “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.”

In order to defeat CU three times in a row, CSU will have to exhibit efficient ball movement offensively. This has been the case in the Rams’ four victories thus far. When Medved’s team clicks, the scoring is distributed immensely as well.

Six different Rams are scoring at least 10 points per game through seven games this season. In four victories, at least five CSU scorers have reached double digits.

In light of his team’s current funk, Medved stressed how early struggles are normal, especially for a team who rebuilt in the offseason. Additionally, the first-year head coach’s biggest goal right now is for his team to learn from its mistakes, and improve as a result.

Saturday’s Rocky Mountain Showdown provides a great opportunity for the Rams to build confidence and improve.

“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.”

The CU Event Center provides a hostile environment that the 2018-19 Rams have not yet been exposed to. In fact, key contributors such as freshman guard Kendle Moore and freshman forward Adam Thistlewood have never played anywhere quite like Boulder in their young careers.

However, core Rams know what it takes to succeed amongst pressure. Bonner, Carvacho, and redshirt senior guard J.D. Paige all helped CSU build its current two-game win streak over CU.

“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 are off to a 4-1 start this season after finishing the 2017-18 season with an overall record of 17-15.

CU returned a number of key pieces from last season. However, second-leading scorer and leading rebounder George King is no longer in Boulder after being drafted by the Phoenix Suns.

Sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV returned to CU for his sophomore season after a successful freshman campaign. Wright currently leads the Buffaloes with 14.8 points per game to go along with five assists each contest.

Behind Wright, noticeable improvements from junior forward Lucas Siewart and senior guard Namon Wright have given the Buffaloes a number of reliable scoring options.

As a team, CU is shooting over 50 percent from the floor and also allowing less than 70 points per game. The Rams have allowed 76 points per game and have converted 48 percent of its attempts from the floor overall.

Both of the intrastate rivals normally score over 80 points per game, so an offensive shootout could be on the horizon for Saturday.

The Rams (4-3) and Buffaloes (4-1) are scheduled to tip off at 1:00 p.m. MT at the CU Event Center. The game can be seen on The Pac-12 network.