Metro State keeps lions winless

By Doug Fitzgerald published January 1, 2004

If adversity does build character, then the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs men's basketball team has all the character it will ever need.

After Thursday's 98-66 loss to the Metro State Roadrunners at the Auraria Events Center in Denver, the Mountain Lions dropped to 0-8 on the season. But that only tells a small part of the story.

How much difference the presence of centers Chris McGowne and Reed Peuser, both lost for the season, would have made is anybody's guess. While the losses have forced CU-Colorado Springs to play forwards in the post and guards on the frontline, McGowne's and Peuser's presence wouldn't have been able to do anything about the Mountain Lions' schedule. CU-Colorado Springs' opponents to date have posted a combined 43-17 record, 60-20 if you count Metro State and Colorado Christian twice. Add to that a new coach with a new system and eight new faces on the roster.

Key injuries forcing many to play out of position, a brutal schedule and rampant unfamiliarity are a recipe for trouble for any team. But building character isn't only about the adversity, it's also about growth. And these Mountain Lions have indeed grown.

It showed in the point differential. Less than a week after shaving 19 points from their margin of defeat in their second game against Colorado Christian, the Mountain Lions knocked 26 off the margin in Thursday's Metro State rematch. Both of the rematches were played i the opponents' gym.

The improvement also shows on the court. CU-Colorado Springs committed 10 fewer turnovers in the second game against Metro State's famous trapping defense than in the first (39-29).

But most importantly, the improvement showed in heart. In the first meeting between the teams, Metro State ran up the score when CU-Colorado Springs coach Marty Fletcher went deep into his bench. Thursday, led by freshman Patrick Simpson, CU-Colorado Springs' garbage-time crew was able to trim seven points from the deficit during the final six minutes of the game.

"Coach prepares us every day as if we're going to start, so when we go in there it's nothing different," said Simpson, who scored six points, including a rare four-point play.

Simpson's struggles, adjustments and improvement mirrors that of the team. In many ways, he's like the poster child for the 2003-04 Mountain Lions.

"I've never played in a game like this before especially against a team like that," said Simpson, a point guard who played at tiny Paonia High School. "I'm trying to recognize defenses and see where people are supposed to be on our team. Now, people are where they're supposed to be and I donâ€TMt have to worry about it.

"I've never played against people this big before. It's different. You've got to get rid of it quick and make quicker decisions."

Casey Gutting led CU-Colorado Springs with 15 points, while Jack Bain added 11.

Michael Morse led six Roadrunners in double figures with 20 points. Ben Ortner added 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

After the game, Metro State coach Mike Dunlap hugged CU-Colorado Springs' Stephon Hicks.

"Way to play all the way to the end," said Dunlap in praise of the Mountain Lions' refusal to quit. That refusal is the team's best reason for optimism. That, and an ever-growing confidence in Fletcher's compplex system.

"Coach Fletcher's system is all about execution," said Simpson. "When we ran our offenses and our press break right, we were getting good looks at the basket. Now, we're getting our execution down. It's still going to take some time, but we're going to get it. When we do, everybody better look out."

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Casey GuttingCasey Gutting15GJr.
Casey GuttingCasey Gutting15GSr.
Jack BainJack Bain45FJr.
Jack BainJack Bain45FSr.
Chris McGowneChris McGowne54CJr.
Chris McGowneChris McGowne54CJr.
Reed PeuserReed Peuser25CFr.
Stephon HicksStephon Hicks40G/FSr.
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