Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – Niko Medved wanted to try something new.

He wanted his No. 7 seed Colorado State team to play a little faster, especially against a No. 2 Nevada team that beat the Rams twice this season, including once on a buzzer-beater from half court by Jarod Lucas in Fort Collins.

So, he brought his star senior point guard, Isaiah Stevens, aside hours before the game and told him just to play.

“I told the guys, ‘I’m not going to call any plays, we’re just going to go, we’re going to get it out,’” Medved said. “I told Isaiah today at the pregame meal, I said, ‘Don’t look over at me tonight. Just go. Just go. Just go be you. Just go hoop.’ That’s what I told him to do.”

The strategy worked, and CSU will advance to the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship semis with an 85-78 win over the Wolf Pack.

While the pace of the actual play was, at times, notably faster than usual for the Rams, the game itself never settled into any sort of rhythm thanks to a combined 50 fouls called. Still, the Rams’ 85 points is their most in a Mountain West tournament game since 2016, when they scored 88 on Boise State.

After using an 11-point run to jump out to an early 12-5 lead, Nevada responded with a seven-point run of its own to tie it up. In need of a spark, one came off the Rams’ bench, much like it did in their first-round matchup against San Jose State.

Wednesday, it was Joe Palmer. Thursday, it was Jalen Lake.

Lake scored 15 of his team-leading 16 points in the first half alone, not missing a shot as he went 5-for-5 from the field and 3-for-3 from 3.

His other point, fittingly, was when the junior brought down a tough rebound in the dying moments of the game and was intentionally fouled. He hit one of those two free throws, putting the finishing touches on a huge win.

“I’m just proud of those dudes. The adversity we’ve been through this year, we’ve had guys that can really shoot the ball and have gone through some shooting slumps to an extent,” senior guard Nique Clifford said. “We just stick with it, keep working, and those guys – all the work they put in every day is showing up right now on the biggest stage.

“That just shows the depth we have on our team. We’re just getting back to how we were playing at the beginning of the year, just having fun playing with that passion.”

His impact was felt on the defensive end, too, along with Clifford, who tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Both had the tough assignment of guarding Lucas, who broke the Rams’ hearts at home a couple of weeks ago. The senior notched a game-high 18 points.

For the Rams, fun basketball has been the best basketball. It’s what earned them a 21-point win over a top-10 Creighton team. It’s what led to them jumping up as high as No. 13 in the Associated Press Poll.

Now that they’re feeling the joy again, who knows what the Rams can accomplish. Medved doesn’t have the exact answer, but the prospect is certainly exciting.

“It’s been a great year for the league for three years in a row now, and I hope we can keep that momentum going because it’s a lot of fun,” Medved said. “It’s not fun to coach every night in the league, but it’s sure as heck a lot of fun to compete in it.”

The Rams will take on the winner of No. 3 Boise State and No. 6 New Mexico on Friday at 9 p.m.