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No. 20 Colorado State survives Covid pause, works through the rust in an important win over Air Force to begin Mountain West play

Justin Michael Avatar
January 5, 2022

DENVER — There is no substitute for the real thing. 

In the 24 days between games for No. 20 Colorado State (11-0,1-0), the Rams were able to hold just three full practices. That’s what men’s head basketball coach Niko Medved told local reporters following Tuesday night’s 67-59 victory over Air Force.*

Never apologize for a win. They all count the same in the end. Honestly, the Rams definitely showed their rust in this one though. They were sluggish at times, particularly on the offensive end. CSU shot 40 percent from the floor as a team, however, if you only witnessed the air balls, you’d probably have assumed the numbers were worse. It was far from what we’re used to seeing from this group through the first third of the 2021-22 season. CSU just couldn’t find the bottom of the net consistently and as a result the frustration was visible on the faces of the Rams. 

Medved said postgame that he gives Air Force all the credit for the way they were able to defend on the road. They’re a well-coached team, Medved expressed. However, he also said fatigue played a big factor on Tuesday night. He could see the way it impacted his team’s legs. 

“There’s nothing like playing,” Medved said. “It’s not just that we haven’t played in 24 days, it’s that for about half of that we did nothing. We weren’t out on the court doing anything… I’m really proud of our guys for just fighting through it, and finding a way to get the first Mountain West win.” 

Isaiah Stevens attempts a shot over Air Force’s Ethan Taylor on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

When CSU had to pause basketball operations in 2020, the Rams fell 53-33 at Saint Mary’s in the first game back to action. On that day the Rams shot just 25 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 16 times. Dischon Thomas finished as CSU’s leading scorer with 8 points. 

I bring up that wacky matchup with the Gaels to illustrate that things could have been much worse on Tuesday night, but also to recognize that when you cannot practice for weeks at a time, the first game back is almost always going to be weird. Talent can overcome a lot of problems, but practice still matters in a sport that requires phenomenal endurance and precise touch. (Sorry, A.I.)

According to starting point guard Isaiah Stevens, there is no substitute for actually playing. You can run sprints, ride a bike, you can even practice, but it’s not like suiting up and going to battle for 40 minutes.

 “The energy is different. The intensity level is different,” Stevens said. And it’s that intensity that Stevens believes really caught the CSU players off guard the most against Air Force. Even after going through a similar situation last season, the Rams weren’t 100 percent ready for the intensity of a live game. “I feel like it caught some of us by surprise, even though we’ve been through it before.”

Stevens added that despite not initially being ready for the heat of the moment, he felt the Rams did a nice job of battling back and remaining competitive. He also went back to something Chandler Jacobs said earlier in the press conference, that this group wants to be more than just a good team, they want to be a tough team. And what tough teams do is find solutions.

Moving forward we’d like to see the Green & Gold get back to the high-level execution that we’ve witnessed over the initial portion of the season. It definitely would not be beneficial to play tight games against lesser competition on a regular basis. They hurt the brand and some of the computer analytics, which really seem to favor blowouts, even when they aren’t against the best talent. All that matters from Tuesday night, though, is that the Rams left with a ‘W’. 

Given the circumstances there is basically no point in worrying about the struggles CSU had offensively. So, essentially, a win is a win. Just take it and smile. 

Plus, while it would have been more aesthetically pleasing to see a more polished product, the reality is that covering an asinine spread against a deceptively pesky rival from down the road really wouldn’t have done that much for CSU’s reputation anyways. 

Rams head coach Niko Medved and his team thank their fans after defeating Air Force at Moby Arena.

What is going to help the Rams’ reputation in the eyes of the college basketball community is continuing to rack up wins. At this point it’s unclear if the Rams are going to face Boise State on Friday night or not. Medved said on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the matchup with the Broncos to happen, at least not on the date it’s currently slated for. He did say it could potentially happen later in the weekend, but he just didn’t know at that moment in time. Medved also said the team is open to playing a non-conference opponent if the opportunity arises. 

“We have to play some games here,” Medved said. “So we’re trying to keep all options on the table. Obviously, that’s frustrating for everybody. It’s frustrating for nobody more than our players. But we just don’t have the answer to that right now. You know, so we’re gonna keep looking for other opportunities if that doesn’t happen. Hopefully in some form or fashion, we can get a game in this weekend.” 

 

*Justin Michael covered this game remotely due to exposure to COVID-19. Thank you to Eddie Herz of the Loveland Reporter Herald for providing the postgame audio.*

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