RENO — Hollywood script writers couldn’t have written a better ending to the Mountain West Conference regular season.
The two best teams in the conference — Nevada (24-6, 13-4) and Colorado State (21-9, 13-4) — meet for the first time this year and for the regular-season championship today at 5 (ESPN3 ) at Lawlor Events Center.
These are the two hottest teams in the conference. The Pack has won five straight and eight of its last 10. The Rams, meanwhile, have won seven straight and 10 of the last 11. The Rams’ last loss was on Jan. 31 at home against Boise State.
“We couldn’t ask to be in any better situation than we are,” senior transfer Marcus Marshall said Friday afternoon. “Playing my last home game at Lawlor and playing for the Mountain West championship. I couldn’t picture going out any other way.”
“It’s been business as usual,” said senior D.J. Fenner. “We are preparing for every game with this kind of intensity. We know what’s at stake. We are both 13-4 in conference, playing for the championship and playing at home. You can’t write a script any better. We can feel a different vibe.”
The Pack is 12-1 at home this season and 28-4 in the Eric Musselman era. The Pack’s only home loss was 81-76 against Fresno State on Jan. 31.
“I don’t feel we’re invincible at home,” Fenner said. “We are definitely confident. One thing we stress is not letting our fans down.”
The Rams are a solid road team in conference, winning seven of 11 contests. It’s an impressive mark, one that makes the Rams a formidable foe.
“They are a really physical team,” Musselman told reporters on Friday. “We have to hold our ground underneath and definitely block out. They push underneath. They rebound aggressively. If we don’t play with a great deal of toughness we’re not going to beat them.
“I expect a physical game. They have a couple of guys who can score the ball (Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo). We have to play well defensively to win this game.”
“They have a lot of weapons offensively and defensively,” Fenner said. “We have to box them out. Rebounding is the biggest thing. If we rebound (like we can) we will be tough to beat.”
Clavell averages almost 19 a game, and he averages more than six rebounds a game.
“He is a big-time shooter,” Musselman said. “He can be physical. He is a physical rebounder.”
Clavell missed the early part of the season because he violated the school’s conduct policy. He scored 15 points off the bench in a win over Northern Colorado, and followed that up with a 16-point effort against Kansas State. He has reached double figures in 20 of 21 games.
Omogbo currently leads the Mountain West and ranks seventh nationally at 10.9 rebounds per game to go with his 14.2 points a contest (11th in MW) and league-high 18 double-doubles. His 13 double-doubles are the most in league history and his 18 total ties the school record for a single season.
Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy hasn’t been happy with his team’s play the last two games despite posting two wins.
“We’ve gotten away from our identity,” he told Colorado-area reporters. “I think we’re smart enough to know what’s happened.”