January 8, 2011

Bears sit alone atop Big Sky following a 72-58 victory over Montana State

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GREELEY, Colo. – Chris Kaba hit four second half three-point shots, and the Bears held the Montana State Bobcats to just five second half field goals en route to a 72-58 victory at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.

With the victory, Northern Colorado (8-7, 4-0) grabs sole possession of first place in the Big Sky Conference and opens up Big Sky play at 4-0 for the first time in school history. The team is now 5-0 at home this season.

The Bears were plagued by turnovers in the first half, as the Bobcats jumped out to a 13 point lead with eight minutes remaining in the half. That lead however, would be Montana State's largest of the game. Northern Colorado finished the half strong as it headed into the locker-room down by just four.

"For a majority of the year, when these guys have been faced with a challenge and they're healthy, they have been able to respond to that challenge," Northern Colorado head coach B.J. Hill said. "So I had faith, especially in front of this crowd, which was unbelievable, that we would be able to pull ahead."

Indeed, the Bears, led by Kaba, came out after halftime and outscored the Bobcats by 18 points. Kaba, a senior, was limited by foul trouble in the first half, but scored all 15 of his points in the second half. With less than ten minutes remaining, he hit four consecutive three-point field goals to help seal the win for the Bears.

"Chris was pretty much a microcosm of this game for our team," Hill said. "He wasn't in it mentally. He came out and turned the ball over, got two quick fouls and we had to take him out. In the second half, he was able to turn it on and that is special."

Neal Kingman, a senior, was the leading scorer for Northern Colorado. His 21 points matches his career-high. The Greeley native also grabbed nine rebounds to go along with two assists and a steal.

Senior Devon Beitzel also chipped in with 18 points and a team-high three steals.

The Bears' perimeter defense was tenacious all night, as they held the Bobcats, to just three field goals from behind the three-point line on just 15% shooting. Coming into the game, Montana State led the Big Sky with over nine three-pointers per game.

The Bobcats (9-7, 3-1) were led by Erik Rush, who scored 13 points. Bobby Howard was the only other player in double-figures with 12 points.

Hill was proud of the way the team bounced back in the second half.

"These guys are human," Hill said. "They are going to make mistakes, but when you have the ability to come together as a group and get back to what they've done that makes them successful; that makes for a special group and makes for a chance to do something special."