PROVO — While bracketologists around the country are projecting No. 7 BYU's possible NCAA Tournament seeding, Colorado State is sitting squarely on the tournament bubble.
For the Rams (18-8, 8-4), nothing would be finer for their postseason résumé than to knock off the Cougars tonight at the sold-out Marriott Center.
And BYU (25-2, 11-1) knows it.
CSU, which stands in third place in the conference standings, is coming off a 68-61 setback at home last Saturday to UNLV. The Rams are looking to establish themselves as a legitimate at-large candidate.
"They're hungry," said Cougar guard Jackson Emery. "They lost a big one at home to UNLV and now they've got to make up for it. To them, in their minds, if they can stick one out on the road against BYU, it would be great for them."
"They're going to come out ready to fight. They're going to be fired up, and we're going to get their best game," said Cougar forward Brandon Davies. "They have nothing to lose. Why wouldn't they come out and fight and try to make or break their season with one game?"
Meanwhile, there is that monumental rematch looming on the horizon on Saturday, when BYU visits No. 6 San Diego State in a showdown rife with Mountain West Conference championship implications as well as NCAA Tournament implications.
But the Cougars say they are focused on CSU right now.
Colorado State coach Tim Miles doesn't expect BYU to overlook his team. "BYU's got great maturity," he said. "I'm sure they'll be ready for the Rams."
When the two teams last met, on Jan. 22, at Moby Arena in Fort Collins, the Cougars surged to a 19-point second half lead before a furious Ram rally cut the deficit to six late in the game. In the end, BYU held on for a 94-85 victory as Jimmer Fredette poured in 42 points.
"It was a really fun game as far as the energy level, the sold-out crowd and that team playing well against us," Emery recalled. "That just made us elevate our game. I thought we did a terrific job of responding to their energy and the way they played."
The key this time around, the Cougars say, is playing better defense. CSU guard Wes Eikmeier scored a career-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers while Travis Franklin added 21 points and Andy Ogide chipped in 18.
"They shot the ball really well. They just played really well as a team," Emery said. "Whenever we made a run, they seemed to respond with a run of their own. That's easy to do when you're at home and you have the crowd right behind you. What we've got to do is make a lot of our runs. We know it's going to be a lot harder for them to make runs in our arena."
BYU coach Dave Rose was pleased with his team's execution on offense against CSU but acknowledged he wants an improved defensive performance tonight.
"I thought we scored the ball really well. We shared it. We were really good in that game with an extra pass to an open man. That's something, hopefully, we can do here," Rose said. "Defensively, we need to be better. … There's a lot of things they did to us to spread us out. which allowed them to get good shots at the basket. They made a couple of really nice runs against us. We had some defensive liabilities. … We got kind of relaxed, defensively. They cause a lot of problems. They're a very good offensive team. They shoot a really high percentage from the field. They have multiple shooters on the floor. They've got a great front line that can score."
The 85 points BYU surrendered against CSU is the second-most points it has allowed in conference play this season, only behind the 86 points that New Mexico scored in the Cougars' loss to the Lobos last month.
BYU has held its last five opponents to fewer than 64 points.
NOTES: Fredette suffered a left calf contusion against TCU last Saturday and did not practice Monday. He's listed as day-to-day. … All three of BYU's final home games, against Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming, are sold-out. … Rose (152-42) needs one more victory to break a tie with Roger Reid and become No. 2 all-time in school history in wins. … At 25-2, BYU boasts its best 27-game record in school history.
Cougars on the air
Colorado St. (18-8, 8-4) at No. 7 BYU (25-2, 11-1)
Today, 6 p.m.
TV: The Mtn. Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM