All eyes are on the Colorado State men’s basketball team as head coach Niko Medved’s inspired squad continues toward the top of the Mountain West standings.
Upon restoring a compelling buzz around Moby Arena, CSU (16-8, 7-4) hits the road for a clash with Fresno State (8-14, 4-7) on Tuesday as it looks to keep the ball rolling following a perfect homestand in which the Rams seized back-to-back victories against Nevada and UNLV.
Having won seven of its last eight games overall, CSU meets an opportunity to obtain a regular-season sweep over the Bulldogs for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.
Despite beginning their conference slate with three consecutive defeats, the Rams are evidently clicking more and more as the year progresses amid a resurgent stretch.
As a result, the once-inexperienced roster heads into Fresno boasting admirable poise –– exemplified when CSU seamlessly erased a first-half deficit en route to a dominant victory over the Rebels last Saturday.
“I hope everything we are doing continues to be a confidence booster for our team,” Medved said. “I’m noticing more maturity all the time. We were down eight there with four minutes to go in the half, and there was no panic whatsoever.”
Amounting to the Rams’ steady success, virtually every player within Medved’s deep rotation is firing on all cylinders.
Highlighted by versatile forward David Roddy and guard Isaiah Stevens –– the latter who has thoroughly emerged as both a reliable shooter and late-game hero –– CSU’s promising freshman class is already taking the program to new heights.
Simultaneous to the impacts of the Rams’ newcomers, sophomores Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore are genuinely coming into their own –– particularly offensively, where both are shooting better than 45 percent.
Vital contributions even extend to the bench. The Rams’ reserves totaled 27 points against UNLV while veterans Hyron Edwards and Kris Martin provided stellar defensive intensity.
“You just kind of have to take it game by game,” Stevens said. “Every game is different. Sometimes we need them (reserves) to come in and give us a spark on the defensive end like we’ve seen time and time again.”
Everyone is truly doing their part, and no one in the locker room expects that to change when facing the Bulldogs, who CSU convincingly knocked off 86-68 at Moby in January behind 47 combined points from Roddy and Stevens.
Though the prosperity is surely a product of the team as a whole, Carvacho’s current trend is certainly worth noting. Coupled with serving as an exemplary mentor behind the scenes, the big man has adequately responded from prior offensive struggles by scoring 16 points in back-to-back outings off 65 percent shooting.
After recording his 45th career double-double versus UNLV to tie the Mountain West record, Carvacho aims to make history on Tuesday.
“It started on the road at Utah State,” Meved said. “He really played with a lot of juice in that game. I think it’s just him kind of finding his stride that way. He’s always played hard. But there’s been another level he’s cranked it up to here with his energy, and it’s been a game-changer.”
As fans witnessed when the programs previously met, the Rams match up well with the Bulldogs. Fresno State struggles offensively –– converting just 41.7 percent of its field goals compared to a 47.6 percent clip for the Rams, which ranks second in the conference.
However, ranking inside the conference’s top third in both rebounds (37 per game) and scoring defense (68.1 points allowed on average), the Bulldogs often pose a legitimate threat. They’ve surely made that clear lately upon consecutively besting Air Force and New Mexico.
Limiting star senior Nate Grimes –– who enters the bout averaging 12.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game –– undoubtedly represents one of CSU’s primary goals as Tuesday night approaches.
“In my mind, what stood out was Grimes made some threes,” Medved said. “He’s shooting the ball from three which he hadn’t been doing in his career. So, that’s a little bit of a game-changer.”
Though the forward’s 23 points and nine rebounds two weeks ago in Fort Collins didn’t prove detrimental, Medved and company are wisely straying away from guaranteeing a positive outcome simply because the ball bounced their way last time.
The red-hot Rams continue taking things one game at a time, which means treating each opponent with respect as they gun for their third win in a row.
Picking up the victory could potentially grant CSU sole possession of second place in the Mountain West. Regardless, the Rams are focusing on the task at hand rather than stressing about the bigger picture.
“Every game is different,” Medved said. “You can’t go in and say well this happened two weeks ago. It’ll be a completely different set of circumstances….I’ve never talked about the standings one time. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s really a next-game mentality.”
Following a pair of highly efficient performances, Stevens appropriately earned Mountain West Player of the Week honors on Monday.
Marking the first Ram to warrant the distinction, the freshman knocked down 11 of 16 field goal attempts versus Nevada and UNLV for 33 combined points –– including a 21-point outing against the Rebels in which Stevens went 5-for-5 from the 3-point line. The multifaceted guard totaled 11 rebounds and nine assists, as well, during the homestand.
Beyond the statistics, Stevens miraculously answered the Rams’ prayers in the clutch last week. The Texas native delivered a step-back jumper to defeat the Wolfpack 92-91 at the buzzer before hitting a triple at the first-half horn in CSU’s victory over the Rebels.
A conference newcomer of the year candidate, Stevens’ 13.4 points and 4.3 assists per contest both lead the Rams.