February 12, 2011

Bears' offense goes missing in Missoula

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MISSOULA, Mont. -- Montana scored the first 10 points Saturday night at Dahlberg Arena, and Northern Colorado never recovered in a showdown of the Big Sky's top two teams.

Senior Devon Beitzel led the Bears with 22 points, accounting for more than half their scoring, but none of his teammates were able to put in more than Mike Proctor's six as Northern Colorado fell into a first-place tie with the Grizzlies with three regular-season games remaining.

The Bears missed their first nine field-goal tries and connected on just 14 overall in shooting a season-low 23 percent and putting up their fewest points since scoring 42 against Ball State on Nov. 11, 2006.

Beitzel made eight of 17 from the field, while the rest of the Bears struggled, finishing a combined six for 43 (14 percent).

Only Beitzel and Paul Garnica (six points) had field goals after halftime.

"(Montana) came out and pressured us like we wanted to pressure them," Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. "They did a good job of pushing us out of our comfort zone, and we didn't react well and handle that pressure as well as, obviously, we'd like.

"Their bodies and their pressure had a great deal with our low field-goal percentage. They are bigger and stronger than us and that showed. We need to go home and get in the weight room."

Brian Qvale led Montana with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Derek Selvig added 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. That duo, which scored just 13 points in a 63-45 loss to the Bears earlier this season in Greeley, outscored Northern Colorado's frontcourt 30-10.

And the Bears connected on just three 3-pointers, which snapped at 46 their string of games with at least five made 3-pointers -- the second-longest streak in the nation (VMI).

Even still, Northern Colorado found itself down just 12 (47-35) midway through the second half and were every bit a part of the game after being down by as many as 19.

Too many empty trips, though, torpedoed the comeback attempt.

"We just weren't very smart," Hill said. "They were pressuring us so much, and we were having a tough time scoring in the halfcourt that we thought we had to take quick ones to try and get a shot up before they could get their defense set. Instead of giving them a chance to fail and maybe letting the momentum change a little bit.

"I think these guys understand the mistakes they made and understand that each of us has to get back in the gym right now and get better."

Northern Colorado entered the game with a chance to take a commanding two-game lead in the Big Sky race. Now, to win their first regular-season title, they Bears will need to win out and have Montana drop one of its remaining three games.

"There are no gimmes in Big Sky Conference play," Hill said. "We don't play a conference game until two weeks from today (NAU), so we've got time to tweak some things and work on things, which we will. We'll be ready for our Big Sky games."