Pioneers' second half does in Men's Basketball
GREELEY -- Sophomore guards Tate Unruh and Paul Garnica combined for 38 points Wednesday night against Denver, but the Pioneers shot 48 percent in the second half and finished with four players in double figures in escaping with a 71-65 win at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Unruh poured in a career-high 19 on 7-of-15 shooting, and Garnica was right behind with 18 to go along with a game-high six assists. Sophomore Connor Osborne scored seven points and added a career-high and game-high 11 rebounds for the Bears (3-6).
Brian Stafford had 16 points for DU, and three others notched double figures in its win, including Royce O'Neale's 14, Brett Olson's 11 and Chris Udofia's 10.
The Bears came into the game off a 10-day break for Finals but were sharp in the first half, knocking down 50 percent from the floor (12-24) to take a 31-26 lead into the break.
Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill entered the game with a 19-2 career record when leading at the half, but the Bears' defense that limited the Pioneers (7-2) to just 37 percent shooting in the first half went absent the first 10 minutes after halftime, allowing Denver to shoot 48 percent in the second 20 minutes and drop that mark of Hill's to 19-3.
Denver opened the second half on a 11-0 run, turning the Bears' lead into a 37-31 deficit.
"It's just where we're at right now in the process," Hill said. "I was really, really pleased with the first 20 minutes and our growth defensively in the last 10 days. But to start that second half, that's just where we're at, in terms of our maturity as a team, playing this many young guys.
"They're having trouble sustaining it when there's any type of break. We've got a halftime, we've got to be mentally strong enough and focused enough to be able to come out with that same energy when the defense is away from us—not in front of our bench—and play with the same communication level and the same sense of urgency we had the first 20 minutes. And we didn't do that, and it lapsed for about five to eight minutes, and then we caught it back again. That's just where this team is, and right now we're not good enough to play for 32 minutes. We've got to find a way to do it for 40 [minutes]."
Denver and Northern Colorado combined for 20 three-pointers, with Denver edging out Northern Colorado from long range, 11-9. But Hill thought his players got too caught up in a long-range shooting battle with the Pioneers.
He and his assistant coaches decided before the game that the Bears could do their most damage in the paint. They did, to the tune of 30-18, but Hill thought there was more there to be had.
"We needed to be more patient and look to get the ball inside," he said. "We talked about it as a key for us to win was to get the ball inside more than what we did. We outscored them 30-18 [in the paint], and it needed to be about 50-18."
The Pioneers also made the most of 18 turnovers by the Bears, which have been bogged down at times this season with lack of ball possession. Denver scored 25 points off of Northern Colorado mistakes Wednesday night.
"I thought physically [Denver] just got after us on the ball and played with great aggression, and we didn't handle it real well when we tried to penetrate. It led to our guys getting sped up and trying to make a great play rather than just making a solid play.
"[Turnovers] have been an Achilles heel for us all year. It pops up in certain games—Northern Iowa, we had 20-some turnovers (25) and we were down one with two-and-half-minutes to go. It's just another aspect that we've got to figure out."
The Bears are in the midst of a home-heavy December schedule, with just one of their six games in the month coming away from Greeley. That one contest, however, is Northern Colorado's next one—and it's going to be a stern test for Hill's up-and-coming program.
The Bears will travel Friday and play at 11th-ranked Marquette at 2 p.m. (MT) Saturday afternoon. The contest will be Northern Colorado's second in as many seasons against a national top-15 program (San Diego State, 2011).
"It's going to be another great challenge," Hill said. "Our schedule is, obviously, very tough (69th in the NCAA, according to Ken Pomeroy). We're going to take a young group of guys in there, and it's going to be another great experience for them and an opportunity to get better.
"Again, I was pleased with our growth this week, but that has to continue. I think it will—it's just unfortunate for [the Bears players] that they're playing this schedule, and they may not see the growth in the win column right now. But if they're patient and they're mentally strong they'll see the benefits as we get into conference play and we get into March."