Bears' important road trip begins in Bozeman
BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Simply stated, Northern Colorado basketball (13-9, 9-2 Big Sky) finds itself in the driver's seat in the race to win its first Big Sky Conference regular-season championship.
But the Bears' next two games -- Thursday at Montana State and Saturday at Montana -- could either serve as a bump in the road or put them in the fast lane toward hosting this year's Big Sky Conference Championship.
The Bobcats (11-12, 5-6) enter on the heels of a five-game losing streak but with a powerful scoring tandem in Erik Rush and Bobby Howard. The Bears trail MSU 32-16 in the all-time series but have won four of the teams' last five meetings, including a 72-58 victory earlier this season in Greeley.
A win there would send Northern Colorado into a pivotal Saturday-night showdown against Montana (16-7, 8-3). The Grizzlies, coming off a two-game road skid at Weber State and Northern Arizona, are a game back of the Bears in the league standings.
- Game 23: Northern Colorado (13-9; 9-2 Big Sky) vs. Montana State (11-12, 5-6 Big Sky)
- When: 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10
- Where: Worthington Arena (7,250)
- Coaches: The Bears' B.J. Hill (13-9; 9-2 Big Sky) vs. Montana State's Brad Huse (66-77; 36-39 Big Sky)
- All-time series: Both teams used to face each other routinely in the RMAC; MSU leads 32-16. Northern Colorado is 4-1 in the last five.
- TV: None
- Radio: KFKA-AM 1310
- Live stream: www.b2tv.com
- Live stats: www.uncbears.com
THE BEARS BASICS
- Northern Colorado is ranked No. 147 in the latest NCAA RPI report, coming in only behind Big Sky team Montana (106). Weber State (155) and Northern Arizona (161) are the only other league teams in the top 200. Montana State comes in at 223.
- Northern Colorado is ranked sixth in the country in team free-throw percentage in 2010-11 and it also ranks in the national top 50 in three-point field-goal percentage (17) and three-point field goals made per game (39).
- Northern Colorado senior Devon Beitzel enters Saturday's game as the nation's 11th-best free throw shooter at 90.8 percent on the year. Mississippi's Chris Warren (94.5) leads the country in free-throw shooting.
- Beitzel is the Big Sky's second-best scorer through the Bears' 22 games this season (19.2). He entered the season having averaged no higher than 14.3 points per game in a season (last season).
- Senior Chris Kaba is the Big Sky's third-best three-point shooter through the Bears' 22 games, pouring in long balls at a 48.6 percent clip. He also ranks 18th in the nation (ESPN.com), just ahead of teammmate Elliott Lloyd, who ranks fifth in the Big Sky (45.8).
- With their 85-72 victory against Portland State on Saturday, Feb. 5, Northern Colorado became the first Big Sky team this season to clinch a spot in this year's Big Sky Championship.
- The Bears, who were first NCAA Division I postseason eligible in 2007, have now qualified for postseason play in three consecutive seasons (2009, 2010 and 2011).
- Northern Colorado was the fifth seed in the 2009 championship but fell to Idaho State in a quarterfinal game in Pocatello, Idaho. The Bears were the second seed last year but lost to Montana in the semifinals in Ogden, Utah.
More threes, please!
- Northern Colorado senior Devon Beitzel enters this weekend with 199 made career 3-pointers, which leaves him just one shy of becoming the 12th player in Big Sky history with 200 career made 3-pointers.
- Beitzel is 12th on the league's all-time list, seven behind Portland State's Brian Towne (1996-99), who made 206, and Montana's Ryan Staudacher (2006-10), who finished with 208.
- Northern Arizona's Ross Land (1996-200) is the Big Sky's leading all-time three-point shooter. He made 308 long balls for the Lumberjacks.