Eyes on the prize: No. 15 Runnin’ Utes try to stay focused on MWC men’s tourney

U head coach Ray Giacolettihas impressed his peers thisseason, receiving the MountainWest Conference Coachof the Year award.Thursday afternoon he willget the opportunity to startearning more brownie points,as he must accomplish acoaching task that is often futile.He needs to get his teamin the “play like there is notomorrow” mentality, whenit is quite obvious that thereis one.The No. 15 Utes (25-4, 13-1MWC) open the MountainWest Conference tournamentThursday afternoon. Whilethey are all but assured of aberth in the NCAA tournament,Giacoletti is makingsure his team stays focusedon winning.”Our mindset’s got tobe play it like it is yourlast game,” Giacoletti said.”There’s a new opportunityhere, playing in the conferencetournament, and you’regoing to make something ofit or you’re going to let it slipaway.”While this will be Giacoletti’sfirst visit to the MWCtournament, the Utes are nostrangers to success in theyearly postseason rendezvous.Facing a possible NITberth last season, the Utesswept through San DiegoState, BYU and UNLV to winthe tournament and make thebig dance.The No. 1 seed Utes willsquare off with eighth seededColorado State in Thursday’squarterfinal game. The Ramsfinished tied with BYU at thebottom of the conference witha 3-11 mark in MWC games.But while they look likepushovers, the Rams could bea tougher match-up than theyappear to be onpaper.”[CSU] is ateam that isprobably playingtheir bestbasketball thistime of year,”Giacoletti said.”They’re bigand they’renow healthy.They are ateam that hasgotten betteras they’ve gonealong.”C o l o r a d oState finishedthe seasonwith two winsin their lastfour games,with one of thelosses comingin a close gameat New Mexico.The Rams helda lead on theLobos into thesecond half,before eventuallysuccumbing.Star centerMatt Nelson is finally healthyafter battling knee troubleall season. He is averaging23.3 points in his last threegames, and has a penchantfor performing well in biggames. This game should suithis style, as it is most likelythe senior’s last game in Ramgreen.Utah sweptthe seasonseries withCSU, winning75-52 inFort Collins,and 64-50 atthe HuntsmanCenter.The Utes are4-0 in MWCq u a r t e r f i -nal games,i n c l u d i n ga win overthe Rams in2002’s openinground.Should theUtes prevail,theywill meet thewinner of theWyoming-UNLV gameon Friday at7 p.m. TheUtes sweptthe seasonseries withboth squads,but were takento the wireby a spiritedRebel squad when the twoteams met in Las [email protected]