It's Deja vu all over again as UCCS gets first win against Western New Mexico
COLORADO SPRINGS â€" A season ago, an winless University of Colorado at Colorado Springs men's basketball team went into Silver City, N.M. and got its first win of the season in its Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference opener by beating Western New Mexico.
Saturday evening at the Lions' Den, Mountain Lion fans were ecstatic to see history repeat itself.
Behind 24 points and nine rebounds by Alex Snyder, both career highs, and six players in double figures, UCCS defeated the Mustangs 96-85 for their first win of the season.
"I feel so relieved; I can't even put it into words," said UCCS coach Russ Caton. "We pulled ourselves out of a hole and it's going to make us a better team. We played hard and had some guys step up tonight."
Foremost among those was Snyder, who at just 6-foot-2, is badly undersized for the low-post style at which he excels. He compensates with the athleticism and physicality of a linebacker.
"Lex brings energy every (game) night; every day in practice," said teammate Chris Fernandez, who contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. "He's kind of like the heart and soul of our team."
There was 'heart and soul' in abundance Saturday. Fernandez, who missed UCCS' first five games with an injury, provided much of it. The junior from Aurora had 11 points and eight rebounds, but was most valuable in the intangibles he provides.
"He gives us some great leadership as far as how to play a tough basketball game," said Caton. "The other guys feed off of his aggressive defense and rebounding.
"I just can't say enough about the guy; he's been the glue for us."
Joining Snyder and Fernandez in double figures were Cole Smith (17), Ben Feilmeier (14), Jordan McClung (10) and Luke Hristou (10). Hristou's output was also a career high and McClung's eight assists matched his career best in that category.
Smith had a game-high 12 rebounds, leading UCCS to a 55-31 advantage on the boards. The aggressive Mountain Lions also shot 36 free throws compared to just 13 for WNMU, although 10 of the UCCS attempts came in the final two minutes when the Mustangs were fouling in an attempt to get back into the game.
The aggressive play was a welcome sight. Caton's teams at UCCS have built a reputation for aggressiveness, making the passive play of the team's first five games this season all the more perplexing.
"We got away from what we were good at last year, which was running and gunning," said Fernandez. "We wanted to make sure we didn't get into spots where we couldn't get a good shot up when teams got set. We'd been working so much on the set offense that we forgot how to play run-and-gun-style basketball, which is our style."
Caton also shortened up his playing rotation. In the first five games of the season, an average of 12 players saw action. Saturday, only nine played and all contributed.
"We went with our most experienced college players tonight," said Caton. " You get into this vicious cycle where if somebody's not getting it done, especially early in the year, you try other guys to see if they can do it.
"I think we found our top (nine). For the other guys to get into that, they're going to really have to push somebody."
Western New Mexico (1-5, 0-1 RMAC) had five players in double figures, led by Stefan Mirabal's 17. Eli Crevelone added 16, followed by Justin Williams' 14. Williams added a game-high 11 assists.
The Mountain Lions' start Saturday brought back fond memories of last season's UCCS team. Offensively, the team showed quick, decisive execution and was aggressive in attacking the basket. That combination led to 55.3 percent shooting and 13 free throw attempts (eight were made). UCCS outrebounded WNMU 30-14 and held the Mustangs to 39.5 percent shooting overall. Only 8-for-15 shooting on 3-pointers prevented WNMU from going into the intermission with a much larger deficit that the 53-40 lit up on the scoreboard.
UCCS (1-5, 1-0 RMAC) built a 20-5 lead over the first 6:13 of the game and led 21-9 when the Mustangs hit two 3-pointers to piece together a 10-2 run. Scott Sublousky answered with a 3-pointer and was followed by a Fernandez layup off a brilliant McClung pass to build the advantage back to nine.
Snyder had four points and Smith three as the Mountain Lions scored seven straight to up the ante to 42-27 with 3:50 remaining in the half. UCCS got up as much as 17 as the half waned, but 3-pointers by Williams and T.J. Riley helped the Mustangs get back to within a manageable 13 at the half.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by McClung and Feilmeier capped a 15-6 second-half-opening run that game the Mountain Lions their biggest lead at 68-46 with just under 16 minutes remaining. The Mustangs surged back little-by -little, cutting the lead to 15 with 13:29 left, then 13 at 11:48, then nine at 9:53.
After a three-point play by Smith pushed the UCCS lead to 87-72, WNMU answered with a 9-0 run to cut it to six with 4:12 left. The Mountain Lions, who had so far struggled this season when faced with adversity, manned up with a seven-point run over the next two minutes to put the game away.
And putting the game away, especially "the one that counts" as Caton put it, was huge for UCCS.
"Obviously, we could only go up from where we've been," he said. "There's such a fine line between winning and losing; it's amazing how just a couple of things that go your way and your confidence changes.
"I mean, I didn't even recognize those guys compared to the way we've been playing."
Last year's team recovered from the poor start to qualify for the RMAC playoffs for only the third time in school history. If history is indeed going to repeat, performances like Saturday's should become recognizable very, very soon.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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