January 12, 2013

Hot shooting can't carry Bears in tough loss to Montana

By ZACH BOND
UNCBears.com

GREELEY – Despite some red-hot shooting and a feisty attitude, the Northern Colorado men's basketball squad couldn't quite hold down Montana in the Bears' 85-77 loss Saturday evening inside Butler-Hancock.

The Bears went toe-to-toe with the defending Big Sky champions all evening and shot the ball at a 50 percent clip for the game, but the Grizzlies' offense did its job too, as the Griz shot 55 percent from the field.

The Bears led by as many as 15 in the first half and used that strong first 20 minutes to give Montana all it could handle.

With the loss, Northern Colorado drops to 1-5 in Big Sky play and 3-11 overall, while Montana stays unbeaten in conference play, moving its Big Sky record to 6-0 and its overall mark to 10-5.

You would be hard pressed to find many things wrong with the Bears' performance Saturday, especially on the offensive end of things. The team shot 50 percent from both the field and the three-point line for the game. The offense was humming on all cylinders and was careful with the basketball, amassing 15 assists and giving up a season-low seven turnovers.

"I'm really pleased with the mental side of things," Northern Colorado B.J. Hill said. "I've been crushing these guys about the focus aspects, the mental side, coming prepared mentally. I saw that out the five starters tonight. Every one of them, I thought, was dialed in tremendously. I think it shows in their offensive game.

"We still obviously have a long ways to go defensively. You can't give up 55 percent and expect to win games. You just can't. But we played about as well as we're going to play on the offensive end when you look at the numbers – shooting 50 percent from the floor and from three, a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. It shows you what we're capable of."

Defensively, despite Montana shooting 55 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point territory, the Bears held their own as their seven steals are the most they've gotten in a Big Sky game this season.

Northern Colorado also won the rebounding battle, outrebounding the Grizzlies 34-29 and grabbing seven more offensive rebounds.

Junior Derrick Barden (Detroit, Mich.) played a gigantic role in the Bears' dominating on the glass, as he finished with a career-high 15 rebounds.

It certainly was a career night for Barden after finishing with a career-high 21 points to lead the team to go along with his career-high numbers on the boards. It was also his second straight double-double and second straight game he grabbed more offensive rebounds (8) than defensive rebounds (7).

Barden wasn't the only Bear to have a stellar performance though, as he was joined by Northern Colorado's two starting guards: Tate Unruh and Tevin Svihovec.

Unruh (Branson, Mo.), a redshirt junior, continued his scorching shooting from outside, as he knocked down five 3-pointers for the second game in-a-row. He finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 5-of-8 shooting from long range.

Most of Unruh's scoring came in the first half, where he sunk 4-of-6 three-point buckets and scored 16 of his 19 total points.

Svihovec (Kingwood, Texas) was not to be outdone by either Barden or Unruh. The redshirt sophomore broke out of a shooting slump in a huge way Saturday, tying a season high with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. His hot shooting was a welcome sight after shooting 34.5 percent from the field over his last four games.

It wasn't just in the scoring department that Svihovec helped contribute though, as he also recorded three assists compared to just two turnovers and was a terror on the defensive end of the court, where he picked up three steals.

It was also his clutch play in the second half that kept Northern Colorado in it, as he poured in 11 points on a 5-of-9 shooting display that featured several impressive midrange jumpers.

 The game couldn't have started off much better than it did for the Bears, as they came out focused and energetic while getting out to a 17-5 lead before five minutes could even tick off the clock.

That early run was fueled by Barden scoring the Bears' first five points off a tip-in and a 3-pointer.

Northern Colorado looked unfazed by going up against the defending conference champs and grew its lead to as large at 15 when Unruh put the Bears up 29-14 off a layup with 8:53 left in the half.

At that point, Montana used eight straight points to cut the deficit to single digits and began chipping away at the Bears' lead. The Griz eventually overtook the Bears and went into the locker room at halftime up 44-41.

In the theme for the night though, the Bears came back out after halftime and continued to match Montana point-for-point and used a 9-0 run to take back the lead at 52-48 with 15:08 left in the game.

From there, Northern Colorado managed to hold off the Grizzlies until the 7:06 mark in the second half, where Montana finally took the lead for good off a Kareem Jamar 3-pointer.

Jamar, a junior, led Montana with 26 points on almost perfect 9-of-10 shooting despite having Tim Huskisson (Willard, Mo.) draped all over him for a good portion of the game.

Senior guard Will Cherry also chipped in with 21 points and six assists for the Griz.

"They're hard to guard," Hill said. "That's the best that Kareem Jamar has played against us. He had a heck of a game. I thought Tim played pretty well defensively. If Tim plays that well defensively night-in-and-night-out, we're going to be pretty good. He took on a challenge and Kareem is just such a hard guard because he can shoot it and what makes him special is his body and his skill set. With the ball-handling ability he has and the body he has, he just wears you out."

The final box for the Bears looks a little strange as not a single bench player got on the scoreboard, but that speaks to the way the starting five was playing more than anything.

Northern Colorado will continue its four-game home stand at 7:05 p.m. (MT) on Thursday, Jan. 17 when the Bears play host to Portland State.