ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Guards have been feasting on Colorado State
The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels may have played themselves out of contention for a Mountain West regular season title, but they seem to be peaking at the right time for a chance at a good postseason run.
Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy on Monday said UNLV might be playing the best basketball in the league, something UNLV coach Dave Rice said was probably a bit much considering how far ahead in the standings UNM is.
But the second-year Rebels coach did admit it might be as well as his team has played all year.
“That’s a pretty strong statement with how well New Mexico is playing and certainly a number of other teams in the league are playing extremely well, so that’s a pretty strong statement,” Rice said. “But I do think it’s the best that we’ve been playing in some time.”
UNLV beat Colorado State 61-59 at home on Wednesday and then went to Laramie, Wyo., and beat the Cowboys 65-42 despite getting only 4 minutes of court time from star freshman forward Anthony Bennett, who hurt his shoulder in the game.
UNLV has Wednesday off and Bennett’s status for Saturday’s game at Nevada is questionable.
In Bennett’s place stepped preseason All-Mountain West pick Mike Moser, who earlier this year dislocated his elbow to derail his season, and sophomore center Khem Birch.
Birch had a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes while Moser played 23 minutes and had 11 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
“Mike Moser is certainly back close to being what Mike Moser is,” Rice said. “We’ve certainly missed his energy. … He’s starting to play more like Mike played last year, which was a guy who was a first team preseason all-conference player.”
As for the team as a whole, “We’re certainly starting to find good chemistry on the floor.”
LEAGUE RPI: The NCAA on Mondays released its official RPI rankings.
The Mountain West had all nine teams ranked in the RPI top 160 (of 345 Division I schools) and seven teams in the top 75.
The team’s RPI rankings are: UNM 3, UNLV 14, Colorado State 15, San Diego State 32, Boise State 47, Wyoming 69, Air Force 75, Fresno State 157 and Nevada 159.
COLORADO STATE: While coach Larry Eustachy seemed to get defensive when asked about his defense. The truth is the numbers suggest the Rams haven’t been very good against guards this season.
Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Matt Stephens, who watched the UNM game film with the CSU coaching staff Monday morning, asked Eustachy on Monday’s conference call what has been going wrong with the Rams defense on opposing guards.
“You just watched it, Matt, so you should know that they weren’t open shots,” Eustachy said. “Everyone was contested.”
Kendall Williams had 46 points in Saturday’s UNM win with 10 3-pointers made. The Saturday prior, Air Force guard Michael Lyons had 45 points with six 3-pointers made.
“It was a reflection on them,” Eustachy said, “certainly not a reflection on our defense.”
Senior guard Wes Eikmeier had the primary (not exclusive, though) defensive assignment in those games and struggled to hold both Lyons and Williams in check. And it wasn’t the first time.
In 12 Mountain West games, CSU has allowed eight opposing guards, including Williams and UNM’s Tony Snell (23), to score 20 or more points. Three have scored more than 30 and two in the past three games have scored 45 or more.
AIR FORCE: Falcons senior guard Michael Lyons hasn’t practiced with the team since spraining his thumb last Wednesday in a road loss at Boise State.
Coach Dave Pilipovich said having Saturday without a game was good timing for his team.
“It’s a grind right now for everybody,” Pilipovich said. “… It’s a great time to recharge and get the eyes maybe refocused for the stretch run.”
WYOMING: Coach Larry Shyatt said senior center Leonard Washington, who missed both of last week’s losses at San Diego State and at home vs. UNLV with a knee injury, should play tonight on the road at Air Force in Colorado Springs and Saturday in the Pit against New Mexico.
COLORADO STATE PART 2: Eustachy opened his portion of Monday’s coaches call saying, “We lost two tough games last week and I guess you can say it was a tough week, it was an explainable week.”
A close road loss at UNLV and a home loss to the league-leading Lobos aren’t considered by most to be the end of the world for the program.
He added, “The sky is not falling.”
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal