Mountain Lions make it three straight with win over Western New Mexico

By Doug Fitzgerald published December 18, 2011

COLORADO - The University of Colorado Colorado Springs won its third straight game since switching to a high-octane style with a gritty, 71-63 victory over the Western New Mexico Mustangs Saturday evening at the Gallogly Events Center.

With the win, the Mountain Lions continued to shake off the funk of a miserable start to the season. UCCS improved to 4-8 overall and 3-3 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

"We just got tired of losing," said UCCS center Kyle Clark, who had six points on 3-for-3 shooting and seven rebounds Saturday. "Having only one win for nine games, not a lot of us have ever experienced that. We finally started picking up on each other's energy."

That was made possible by featuring the guys who could bring that energy night after night.

"We had to fit (our style) around the lineup that's been the most productive for us, and that's been our guards," said UCCS coach Russ Caton. "We're going a little faster and a lot smaller. Earlier on we were trying to play a bigger lineup and we had a lot of mistakes."

Over the past three games, the Mountain Lions' guards have dominated the score sheets. Five-foot-10 Darius Pardner has averaged 21.3 points per game over that span, while 6-foot-0 Jake Darby is at  19, 5-foot-8 George Pollard is at 12.3 and 6-foot-2 Alex Koehler is at 8.7.

"We have a lot of guys who can knock it down," said Caton. "It's an easy game when the ball goes in the hole."

And don't forget the big guys. The style has fit the 6-foot-11 Clark, who has averaged 9.3 points over the past three games. Matt Heydman, Jeff Isaac, Joell Crawford and Nolan Baker have all had their moments while also bearing the extra defensive responsibility that the small lineup can present.

"The snowball is rolling, it's getting bigger," said Caton. "We're getting a lot of confidence and things are starting to come together. Guys are starting to believe in all the hard work we're putting in.

"We're playing our game pretty well. It's a good direction for us right now."

With both teams playing their second game in as many nights on Saturday, the play haggard at best. The Mountain Lions shot just 40 percent overall, including 33.3 percent from 3-point range, and 64.7 percent from the foul line. Western New Mexico (2-8, 2-4 RMAC) struggled even more, shooting 31.4 percent and just 2-of-17 (11.8 percent) on 3-pointers.

"It was definitely a second night in the RMAC game," said Caton. "There were a lot of tired legs out there."

Neither team had a player in double figures until Heydman's layup with 6:12 remaining gave put him at 10 and put UCCS up 58-47.

Pardner and Darby led the Mountain Lions with 14 points each, while Isaac and Heydman each had 10.  Heydman led UCCS with nine rebounds, followed by Koehler, Crawford and Clark, who each added seven. Darby had four assists and Pardner had three steals.

WNMU's Chris Mason led all scorers with 16 points, while T.J. Riley added 11 points and five assists. Forward Chad Carter had eight points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

The Mountain Lions took the lead on a Pollard free throw with just 3:14 expired on the clock and never trailed again. UCCS led by as many as 11 in the first half before settling for a 34-28 halftime advantage.  

The Cowboys tied the score at 45 with a seven-point run, four of which were scored by Merle Branch, with 9:45 remaining. UCCS answered by scoring the next seven points and 13 of the next 15 to go up 58-47 with 6:12 left.

WNMU got the gap down to three with 1:48 left, but Pardner and Pollard sank two free throws each to salt it away.

"We're playing some smart basketball; I think that's the biggest thing," said Caton. "We don't put ourselves in a position all too often to hurt us.

"Most games aren't really won, they're lost, so as long as we keep eliminating those mistakes, we'll be OK."

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Matt HeydmanMatt Heydman13G/FJr.
Darius PardnerDarius Pardner34GFr
Darius PardnerDarius Pardner1GSo
Jake DarbyJake Darby10GJr
Jake DarbyJake Darby11GJr
George PollardGeorge Pollard12GJr.
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