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Mountain West battering Rams

Being an optimist, freshman Andre McFarland is excited to see himself as a significant piece to the rebuilding puzzle at Colorado State. His whole career is ahead of him, and the basketball team around him will get better.

But for now, it can’t get much worse for the Rams, who are riding a nine-game losing streak.

McFarland, a Durango High School product, is returning to Las Vegas with a team enduring excruciating growing pains.

“We’re going through a difficult time,” he said. “I’m not thrilled about the losing streak at all. Everybody knew we were going to take our lumps. We just have to continue to fight through it.”

UNLV, 17-5 overall and 6-2 in the Mountain West Conference, hosts Colorado State (6-16, 0-8) at 3 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center, and neither team is riding an emotional high.

The Rebels were knocked from the top spot in the league Wednesday with a loss at Utah. The Rams are coming off a 40-point loss at New Mexico.

“These guys don’t think they can overlook anyone,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “They understand that we’ve got to play hard and be focused every night out.”

When the teams met Jan. 5 in Fort Collins, Colo., the Rebels erased an eight-point deficit with six minutes remaining and escaped with a 65-62 victory. McFarland scored 14 points for the Rams.

Junior guard Marcus Walker has been Colorado State’s main source of hope. Walker is the Mountain West’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game.

McFarland, a 6-foot-6-inch forward, averages 7.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. The No. 2 freshman scorer in the league, he is shooting 37.7 percent from 3-point range.

“(McFarland) is always a threat. He can shoot the 3, and we’ve got to be concerned about him, for sure,” said Kruger, who was displeased with the Rebels’ defensive execution against Utah.

Returning to his hometown is something McFarland has been looking forward to, he said. But he also had a chance to stay home and play for UNLV.

Before his senior year at Durango, McFarland said he met with Kruger and was not offered a scholarship right away.

McFarland was playing for an AAU team in Las Vegas with teammate Marcus Lawrence, now a sophomore guard for the Rebels. Lawrence, a former Bishop Gorman standout, was offered a scholarship and committed early.

“Coach Kruger told me he wanted to re-evaluate my talent,” McFarland said. “I was irritated because UNLV was my first choice from the beginning. When they told me I wasn’t good enough, it kind of hurt me.”

A short while later, McFarland said he had an impressive showing in the Easter Classic, an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, and started to attract more interest from several schools, including UNLV.

“That’s when everything took off,” McFarland said.

He said he felt “a little bit of resentment” toward the Rebels and later made a commitment to Southern California.

But he backed out of that, he said, because he was not communicating well with USC coach Tim Floyd. “We just didn’t have a good relationship,” McFarland said of Floyd.

McFarland instead spent one year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire before committing to Idaho, where his cousin, DeMarlo Slocum, was an assistant coach.

Slocum, a former coach of the Las Vegas Prospects AAU team, joined first-year head coach Tim Miles’ staff at Colorado State before this season, and McFarland opted not to go to Idaho.

“I have no regrets about what I’ve done,” McFarland said. “I’m happy I’m here.”

McFarland said he holds no grudge against UNLV. “It’s in the past now,” he said.

But he also would like nothing better than to beat the Rebels.

“Every team in this league is beatable,” McFarland said. “We go into every game with confidence we can win. I’m looking forward to this game.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2907.

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