Hit the road: Utes travel to Colorado to face the Rams

The Runnin’ Utes head to Fort Collins on Saturday for a battle of two teams that are desperate to keep from falling way behind in the conference race.

Utah (8-6, 1-2 MWC) and Colorado State (11-4, 0-2) have the unfortunate similarity of both hauling two conference losses into Saturday’s game, a number that neither will want to add to.

The Utes knocked off New Mexico at the Huntsman Center to start the conference slate, but have dropped two in a row since-a 72-60 decision at BYU and a 72-67 squeaker against San Diego State.

The Rams are going home for the first time in their MWC schedule, having lost 83-75 at both New Mexico and SDSU.

Both squads have some factors they can look to when searching for a potential edge. The Utes have won five in a row against the Rams, including all three meetings last season. But historical domination didn’t help them out Wednesday, when San Diego State knocked off Utah in the Huntsman Center for the first time since 1982. The Rams are perfect at Moby Arena this year, going 7-0 at home during the non-conference season. That gaudy record includes wins against the SEC’s Auburn Tigers and a one-point win over the same Colorado Buffaloes that blew out the Utes in Boulder.

In order for the Utes to even their conference record to 2-2 on Saturday, they will have to fix a problem that suddenly cropped up against the Aztecs on Wednesday. Utah was out-rebounded 35-25, a category that usually tilts in the Utes’ favor, especially with established post players Chris Jackson and Luke Nevill. But none of the Ute bigs had an impact on the glass against the Aztecs, as the leading rebounder was swingman Bryant Markson with four.

“There are little measuring sticks,” Ute head coach Ray Giacoletti said. “One is a consistent effort. Our turnover count (against SDSU) was where it needed to be at 13, but now we have to go out and fix the rebounding situation.”

That issue could be a sticky point, considering the stature of the Ram front line. Sophomore center Jason Smith has developed beyond the potential he showed last season and, thus far this season, has averaged 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. Smith has given the Rams a seamless transition from graduated star center Matt Nelson.

Also getting it done down low is power forward Michael Harrison, who is averaging 12.3 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game.

The Utes and Rams will tip off at 2 p.m. in Fort Collins.

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