Winona State outlasts Mountain Lions in season opener
COLORADO SPRINGS - Alan Paul scored 24 points but the University of Colorado Colorado Springs faded at the end in a 97-86 loss to the Winona State Warriors Friday evening at the Gallogly Events Center.
The Mountain Lions came into the game with little identity and plenty of questions. Although the game was a loss, both of those issues were, if not fully alleviated, at least greatly reduced.
"Actually, I'm excited," said UCCS coach Russ Caton afterward. "There were a couple of worries going into this game. I had a couple of guys that I was wondering of they were going to compete, and they did. I was wondering where we were going to get scoring because in the two exhibition games we couldn't score the ball. It was good to see us find a way to get the ball in the basket.
"For a loss, there were a lot of good things going on. You always learn a lot more from a loss than a win and we'll learn from that."
Good things going on indeed. For 33 minutes, UCCS played toe-to-toe with one of the better programs in the nation. Over the past six seasons, coach Mike Leaf's Warriors have gone 169-35, including two national champions (2005-06 and 2007-08) and a national runner-up (2006-07). The Warriors set a Division II record by winning 57 consecutive games from Jan. 13, 2006 to March 22, 2007. Winona State came into this season as the de facto No. 26-ranked team in the nation, having been at the top of the "also receiving votes" in the NCAA Division II Preseason Poll.
The Mountain Lions unraveled in the final seven minutes. The Warriors outrebounded UCCS 13-4, including eight off the offensive glass and were sent to the line for 15 free throw attempts, making 12. The result was Winona State outscoring the Mountain Lions 24-14.
Six-foot-10 center Clayton Vette showed the ability that's made him Winona State's leading All-American candidate with 27 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs. Four other Warriors scored in double figures, led by Grant Johnson's 17.
Winona State (1-0) shot 61 free throws, the second most ever surrendered by a UCCS men's basketball team. The only time a Mountain Lion opponent got more foul shots was on Dec. 1, 2007 when Dixie State shot 65 in a 107-83 UCCS loss.
"We've got to learn to get our fouling under control; 61 free throws is pretty crazy," said Caton after Friday's game. "A lot of those fouls were good hustle fouls but a lot of them were pointless fouls. We need to be able to separate those out and give ourselves some more opportunity to play defense."
Along with reducing the fouls, Caton said his team needs to see a marked reduction from Friday's 20 turnovers.
"We've got to learn to value the basketball a little bit more," he said. "We really beat ourselves by giving them so many extra opportunities with our turnovers."
Caton also added, "there were a lot of positives."
The Mountain Lions came into Friday's game with more questions than answers after a pair of lopsided losses to NCAA Division I teams. Friday, UCCS was able to execute its offense, played tenacious defense and even rebound, at least for much of the game, with a much larger opponent.
"It was day and night from the (exhibition) games," said Paul. "It was a confidence builder. That's just guys coming together."
Caton was glad to see Paul assert himself on the offensive end.
"That's what he's supposed to do," said Caton. "When his head's in the game and he's playing well, he's really a tough kid to stop. He's a high percentage guy and we need to make sure we get him a lot of shots."
Jake Darby and Damar Hill each added 12 points for UCCS (0-1), while Hill also added five assists and three steals. Paul lead the team with six rebounds and three others (Jordan Carter, Darby and Matt Heydman) each had five. Carter blocked three shots.
If the game showed anything, it was that the Mountain Lions are starting to discover just who they are and what they can achieve. It also showed that there is plenty of talent on the roster that has just four returners from a season ago and lots of new faces.
"We're still trying to find our game," said Caton. "We're making some offensive adjustments and trying to find the game that fits us."
Friday was a big step in that direction.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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