Rams Open MWC Play Saturday

CSU-SID - Dale Layer would perhaps have picked a different place for Colorado State University's men's basketball team to open the 2002 Mountain West Conference schedule.

But he doesn't have that choice.

The second-year Rams' coach will lead his team - one that has 10 new players on its roster - into the conference season Saturday at Wyoming (4 p.m. MT, Arena-Auditorium; no television/radio only). One of the 10 newcomers - freshman center Matt Nelson, continues to be sidelined with his right foot in a cast after he dislocated his big toe in a win over Southern Illinois Dec. 18.

"It is a difficult place for a visiting team to play," said Layer. "There is no question about that. They have very loud, enthusiastic fans who are passionate about their team. I'm certain that when we go walking in there with so many new players, we're going to have some wide-eyed guys."

Colorado State is 8-6 entering Saturday's game and the Rams have won four of their past five. Wyoming, 10-4 overall, got an early jump on the conference race by winning at UNLV last Saturday night, 69-59. The Cowboys were picked in most preseason polls to challenge for the conference title with an experienced, talented team.

Colorado State, by contrast, features a roster that includes the 10 new players. Layer hopes to lean on the experience of starters Brian Greene and Andy Birley as the team plays its MWC conference slate.

Greene, a junior from Thornton, Colo., leads the team in scoring and rebounding. He ranks among the conference leaders in several categories and has scored in double figures 10 consecutive games and 13 of 14 thus far. Green was the team's lone returning starter when practice opened in October.

Birley started 10 games a year ago and led Colorado State in assists. He's one of the league's top shooters behind the three-point line and is fourth on the team in scoring.

Forward Matt Brown, a senior, and sophomore swingman Ronnie Clark along with junior guard Joe Macklin figure to join Greene and Birley in the starting lineup Saturday afternoon. Brown had his top scoring game since November when he had 12 points in last Saturday's win over Morris Brown. Clark will be playing his fourth game after becoming eligible following his transfer to Colorado State a year ago. His first game in uniform he scored 25 points, making his first nine field goals, and has had five rebounds in each of the three games in which he has played. Macklin joins Birley as the only two Rams who have started all 14 games to date. He and Birley share the team's assist lead with 56 each.

Saturday's game is not only the conference opener, but begins a difficult stretch for the Rams in which they play three straight games on the road and five of seven away from Moby Arena. Colorado State opens the home nonconference slate Jan. 26 against Air Force.

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