Colorado State Rams by Fresno State and Into Friday's MW Semis
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - There's a new standard with Colorado State men's basketball, as the Rams notched a school-record 27th win with their 71-59 win over Fresno State in the 2015 Mountain West Men's Basketball Championship quarterfinal round on Thursday.
No. 3 seed Colorado State (27-5) dominated wire-to-wire against the sixth-seeded Bulldogs, as four players scored in double figures for the Rams, who swept the regular-season series and have now won eight of the last nine meetings with Fresno State (15-17).
The Rams will face second-seeded San Diego State (25-7) in Friday's late semifinal, at 8:30 p.m. PT at the Thomas and Mack Center.
"I've just been along for the ride," Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. "They've shown great character and unbelievable coachability. It's one of my top experiences as a coach, tonight was, in a long career. I'm very proud of these guys."
Daniel Bejarano led the Rams' offensive charge with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Stanton Kidd added 11 points seven rebounds. Joe De Ciman and Gian Clavell each had 10.
The Rams used a 17-3 run over the final 4:21 of the first half and headed into the locker room with a comfortable 40-22 halftime lead. The Bulldogs, who are now 1-3 all-time in MW Tournament play, struggled to match Colorado State's offensive intensity, as they shot just 36 percent (9 of 25) from the field. Conversely, the Rams were 13 of 28 (46.4) from the field in the first half, and tethered the net from long-range, hitting 8 of 13 (61.5) behind the 3-point line.
Though the Bulldogs opened the second half on a 19-7 run to cut the lead to six, at 47-41, it seemed to be only a matter of time before the Rams rekindled their flame. Colorado State followed Fresno State's run with a 14-6 blast to push the lead back to double digits, at 61-47.
The Bulldogs were led by Cezar Guerrero's 16 points, while Paul Watson added 14 points and six rebounds. Julien Lewis had eight points and nine rebounds for Fresno State.
"For us to withstand them coming to us within six and finding ways to extend it where they had to make four three's at the end to tie it even was amazing," Eustachy said. "Obviously when we're doing what we do: coach, pick out things we're doing wrong, run certain things ... blocked shots ... they took it to another level.
"I've always told them the body can take a lot, it's just how far you want to push it. They went to a level that I've never seen before because that is not a stiff team that we just beat."
The win, however, was costly, as Colorado State's leading scorer, J.J. Avila left the game with a sprained right ankle at the 6:45 mark of the first half. There was no indication whether or not he would be available for Friday night's game against San Diego State.
"I'm really in the dark with what it is," Eustachy said of Avila's injury. "I just knew that he wanted to try it in the second half, and I didn't want him to because I didn't want to risk any permanent injury. If it's just a matter of tolerating pain, then he'll play. If it's a matter of it could get worse, he won't play. It's pretty simple."
Bejarano said the Rams will prepare for San Diego State both ways: with and without Avila in the lineup.
"Obviously we have the best coaching staff in the country, so we're going to prepare and come up with a plan," Bejarano said. "We split with San Diego State, now we're on a neutral court."
Said Kidd: "He's going to do everything in his power to play tomorrow. If he don't, it's a blow, but we adjust. We go to the lineup that coach (has) for us and I think (we'll) be perfectly fine."
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @AP_WG