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By Nick Ellis / Special to The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
This was not what Cal State Bakersfield had in mind when it joined the Western Athletic Conference.
The Roadrunners, four games into their inaugural WAC season, find themselves in eighth place in the nine-team WAC for men's basketball.
But things can change quickly, CSUB coach Rod Barnes said, as the Roadrunners seek their first home conference win tonight.
"There are some guys in our league who are probably playing some of their best basketball right now, and we're not," Barnes said. "We've had some good practices. Now we've got to sustain it."
The Roadrunners (8-10 overall, 1-3 WAC) play host to Chicago State (8-10, 3-1) tonight at 7 in the Icardo Center.
On Saturday, also in Icardo, CSUB hosts Mo.-Kansas City (6-11, 3-2).
The Roadrunners lost both WAC home games this season, losing to Utah Valley and Grand Canyon earlier this month in Rabobank Arena.
Barnes said he and his players are happy they're returning to Icardo this week. CSUB hasn't played a game at Icardo since Nov. 23.
"This is more of a homecourt advantage because we're in here every day," Barnes said. "It's the place where we practice every day. Our guys come in here between classes. They're here early and stay late. We're more comfortable here."
CSUB isn't the only WAC team to lose a home game. Of the 21 WAC games played this season, 13 have been won by visiting teams.
Chicago State, CSUB's opponent tonight, has won at Idaho and Kansas City but has an 84-61 home loss vs. Texas-Pan American.
"It's strange on how many teams have lost home games," Barnes said. "That never happens in league play.
"A couple of teams that usually win a few games on the road and that gives them a great record, but this is going to be an interesting race."
New Mexico State was the preseason overwhelming pick by coaches and the media to win the WAC title. But the Aggies have lost two WAC games. The WAC leader is Utah Valley at 4-0 (10-7 overall).
"I think they were reading the clippings that everyone was saying about them," Barnes said of New Mexico State. "They were just going to cruise into places and beat people. And I think they've been shocked and surprised some teams are better than they probably thought."
Barnes said he's more surprised about the two New Mexico State losses than he is about Utah Valley being 4-0.
"Everyone knew Utah Valley had a bunch of seniors. Everyone knew they'd probably have a solid team," Barnes said.
"But New Mexico State was projected to probably lose only one or two games, and some people had them going undefeated in league, and they've lost two already. That's probably the biggest surprise."
CSUB was picked to finish third. Barnes noted that the WAC is so tight a good weekend can turn the standings around.
"We're two wins from being in third place where we're picked," he said. "We've got to win two games this weekend to do that.
"Now if we don't win both games this weekend, we've probably put ourselves in a very tough position."
Barnes said he expects to give senior guard Zach Lamb more minutes tonight than in recent games. Lamb has not fully recovered from last season's right ankle dislocation.
"I think we've gotten to the point where we've got his ankle calmed down," Barnes said. "It's probably as good as it's going to get. ... My deal is let's try to push it now. If we push him too much we'll back off and save him for the end of the year."