January 25, 2009

Paltry first half dooms men's basketball in Montana

BOX SCORE: at Montana
STANDINGS: Big Sky Conference

MISSOULA, Mont. -- Northern Colorado's men's basketball team wasn't able to overcome its lowest-scoring first half of the season Sunday in its 68-59 loss to Montana inside Dahlberg Arena.

Senior Jabril Banks scored a team-high 17 points for the Bears, and sophomore Chris Kaba surprised with 14 points in seven minutes off the bench, but the 21 points scored by the Northern Colorado in the first 20 minutes had it in a hole -- down 37-21 -- it would not be able to climb out of.

The Bears' previous first-half low this season was 26 points against Denver in November and again last Sunday against Portland State.

Juniors Will Figures and John Pena and sophomore Devon Beitzel, starters all, finished with just 16 points Sunday. Neal Kingman, who had scored six or more points in 12 of the previous 13 games for the Bears, notched just two against the Grizzlies (11-9, 5-3 Big Sky).

"We weren't ready to go from the get-go," Northern Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "We laid an egg, and we let our lack of production on offense affect our defense. I thought we made a lot of miscues defensively in that first half.

"But it all comes back to our offense. When you're starting 1, 2 and 3 go a combined 5-23 from the field, it's going to be tough. That just puts a whole lot of pressure on your defense when you can't make a shot. We've got guys that are good shooters that just aren't making shots right now."

There's just something about these Big Sky Conference "Game of the Week" telecasts that bring out the worst in the Bears (8-13, 4-4). Last week's loss to the Vikings -- also a GOTW -- saw Northern Colorado score just 43 points. And on Sunday against the Grizzlies, the Bears needed a 17-6 run in the final four minutes of the game to get to as close as they did.

Kaba scored 11 of his points in that frenetic stretch.

"You never know who's going to get going with this team," Boyle said. "I've always known that Chris is a capable player, he's just kind of found himself lately on the outside of the rotation. But it's not because he's not capable, it's just consistency level. But he comes in tonight and makes some shots for us.

"The hardest thing with this team is figuring out who to play on a night-to-night basis. I thought we had kind of gotten over that. I thought we had found a rotation. But when guys aren't producing, it puts a little more pressure on every body, including me."

Banks, who finished with seven rebounds, scored five of his 17 points within a minute-and-a-half stretch that saw him throw down another monster dunk while getting fouled (he made the ensuing free throw) and nail a soft jumper two possessions later. At that point, down 45-32 with 12:59 to go, it appeared the Bears were going get themselves back in the game.

A 14-7 run by Montana put the game away.

"Coach (Larry) Brown always used to tell our teams at Kansas," Boyle said, "that it's easy to come back. A lot of our offensive success tonight came at the 'Comeback time,' when Montana was on its heels a little bit. It's hard to come back and win, though. And that's why a lot of teams can't do it. We came back and cut the deficit a few different times today, but it happened there at the end when basically the game was over."

Northern Colorado will now travel back to Greeley on Monday and then turn right back around and hit the road in continuing this four-road-games stretch at Sacramento State on Thursday night and at Northern Arizona next Saturday night.