UCCS impressive, but drops final exhibition
Patrick Hannaway took the inbounds pass with four seconds remaining. He went left to avoid one Denver defender, then sprinted right, across the midcourt stripe, to elude another pursuing guard. He deked 6-foot-11 center Yemi Nicholson then set himself to fire the tying 3-pointer against the Division I Pioneers.
The buzzer sounded. No shot. Game over.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs lost 75-75 to Denver Saturday afternoon at DU's Hamilton Gymnasium in the Mountain Lions' final exhibition game of the season. UCCS will open its regular season Wednesday at Grand Canyon in Phoenix.
A team that went 1-26 a season ago has little room for moral victories, but this one would have made Aesop proud. The Pioneers won 20 games a year ago and earned a postseason invitation to the National Invitational Tournament, more commonly know as the NIT. This was an opponent that should have outclassed a Division II team â€" ANY Division II team.
But UCCS was far from outclassed.
All five Mountain Lions starters scored in double figures, led by 6-foot-9 center Bly McGuire's 17. McGuire added 10 rebounds as his numbers compared favorably to those of Nicholson, a preseason selection to the CollegeInsider.com Preseason Mid Major All-America team. Nicholson finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Matt Cordova added 15 points while making 3-fo-6 3-pointers. Hannaway had 13 points, a team-high 11 rebounds and a game-high five assists. Senior point guard P.J. Forrest and freshman power forward Bryan Snyder added 12 points each.
The game was tied at 12 when the Pioneers went on a 9-0 run. Cordova answered with a 3-pointer before Denver scored another six straight to extend their lead to 12. It grew to as many as 15 before consecutive field goals by Snyder, Hannaway and Leo Thomas cut it to nine.
The Pioneers went into halftime with a 36-25 lead and plenty of confidence. For Snyder, who played for tiny Simla High School a year ago and has faced only junior colleges and Division III Colorado College so far this season, playing Denver was overwhelming at first.
"It was so much faster and so much more physical," said Snyder. "The physicality and the speed of (the game) was different. D I is so much faster."
But this is also a bigger, faster and better version of the Mountain Lions.
"We're a lot more athletic (than last year)," said Cordova, the only starter that played on last year's team. "I think our chemistry is a heck of a lot better than it was. We have a lot more faith in each other."
UCCS soon proved his point. Denver led 40-27 early in the second half when Cordova hit two 3-pointers to lead the Mountain Lions on a 13-3 run. The Mountain Lions kept the game close despite being whistled for seven fouls, compared to one against the Pioneers.
Trailing 56-52 with 9:19 remaining, though, Hannaway joined McGuire on the bench with four fouls each. Outmanned, UCCS was also outscored 12-0 over the next 3:02. Despite being down by 16, the Mountain Lions kept plugging away.
"We never panicked," said Snyder. "That's something that's expressed in practice all the time."
It's also something the Mountain Lions expressed in Denver Saturday. All five UCCS players scored, led by seven points by McGuire and six by Forrest, as the Mountain Lions mounted a 21-6 rally that had them trailing by a single point with only 24 seconds left.
Andrew Carpenter, who had 15 points, made the first of two free throws but forward Antonio Porch went high over McGuire for the offensive rebound. Porch, who led Denver with 16 points, made two free throws to extend the lead to 77-73.
Hannaway put back a McGuire miss to cut the lead to two. A quick foul sent Steve Wetrich back to the line, where he made the second of two shots. That set up Hannaway's frantic, unsuccessful, dash.
"We never gave up," said Snyder. "If we can do that against a Division I school, we should be able to do it against anyone in the RMAC."
And that, folks, is the moral to this story.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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