November 8, 2013

Bears take down reigning Big 12 Champs Kansas State in season opener

Collin Boyles

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Kansas State gave away free bacon Friday night at the women's basketball game that preceded the men's matchup between the Bears and the Wildcats. But while the Wildcats brought the bacon, the Bears brought the sizzle.

Northern Colorado wasn't hot throughout the entire game in Bramlage Coliseum, though. The team struggled early with turnovers and fouls, but halftime adjustments that included forcing more turnovers from Kansas State and converting high percentage shots led to the eventual 60-58 win on the road.

"Obviously, I'm very proud of our team because they could not have played much worse in the first 10 minutes. They really showed what they are made of in the last 30 minutes in the way that they came back," head coach B.J. Hill said. "We were the fifth-youngest team in the country two years ago, and this group has really started to mature. They take on a personality that is necessary to do something like this."

The Bears found themselves down at halftime 29-24, but that margin could have been much larger if it wasn't for missed free throw opportunities by the Wildcats. KSU held the lead by as much as seven in the second half, but UNC kept chipping away at the deficit until guard Tate Unruh (Branson, Mo.) sank his second of three 3-point shots to bring his team within one point at about the 16 minute mark. The Bears made four of the next five total field goals to swing momentum into their court.

Freshman guard Jordan Wilson (Los Angeles, Calif.) had a big impression on the outcome during his first career collegiate game. It was his jumper with 11 minutes in the game to give UNC a four point advantage, 41-37. He totaled eight points on the night with three assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes played.

The trio of Unruh, forward Derrick Barden (Detroit, Mich.), and forward Tim Huskisson (Willard, Mo.) took over KSU's home court spanning the final 11 minutes. Unruh scored his final 3-pointer of the night, Barden added four points including a breakaway dunk following a quick defensive rebound, and Huskisson converted an and-one opportunity along with two more free throws.

It wasn't just the offense that was giving the Bears the momentum, though. Hill's squad forced three turnovers over the final 11 minutes and also limited the Wildcats' field goal opportunities.

"I have been coaching this team for the last two years on committing to being a great defensive team," Hill said.

KSU was able to take advantage of a missed UNC shot and a turnover to tie the game with 5:37 left in the game. Consistent pressure from the Bears defenders following the tying score allowed its offense to gain the lead again by five with a field goal at the 2:14 mark. The Bears would not make another field goal the rest of the way. Free throws, both made and missed, proved to be the difference maker for the Bears.

Center Connor Osborne (Littleton, Colo.) was sent to the line with 52 seconds remaining in the game while the Bears held a 56-53 lead. Osborne sank the first to put the lead at four, but missed the second. Huskisson was able to jump up and grab the offensive board and pass it out to guard Corey Spence (Baltimore, Md.). The Wildcats were forced to foul Spence who went to the line with a one-and-one opportunity. The transfer from Casper College missed the first shot, but again the Bears were able to grab the offensive board, allowing them to run the clock.

Both teams took free throws the rest of the way until the final shot from the Wildcats. Tevin Svihovec (Kingwood, Texas) sealed the game for the Bears with nine seconds left while making one of two free throws to put the team up 60-56. The Wildcats' Marcus Foster took a 3-pointer, looking for a foul from the Bears, but came up empty before the offensive rebound was put back. The meaningless score set the final on the night at 60-58 in favor of the Bears.

Barden had a monster night including a game-high 16 points and another game-high 17 rebounds. Unruh followed Barden in points with 14 including shooting 3-of-8 from the 3-point line. Both Huskisson and Svihovec scored seven points.

On the night, the Bears were able to win the rebound total 49-40 over the Wildcats. UNC also outshot KSU 40% (21-52) to 33% (20-59) from the field, 23% (3-13) to 11% (2-19) from 3-point, and 60% (15-25) to 49% (16-33) from the free throw line.

"For them to come today and hold Kansas State to 33 percent (shooting free throws) in their own gym is what I am most proud of," Hill said.

While the Wildcats missed 17 free throw shots, the Bears dealt with their own struggles early including 15 total turnovers, 10 of which came in the first half.

The Bears looked to be adjusting to the pace of the game in their first regular season game together. The team turned the ball over on its first three possessions. Keeping the Bears in the game was the fact that the Wildcats missed nine free throws in the first half. Despite the Bears giving up the ball, the Wildcats only scored three points off turnovers. UNC found itself looking for an answer to the turnover and foul problem and although they trailed by 12 with 2:16 left in the first half, five free throws and a layup cut the lead to just five at the half.

Northern Colorado now gets its turn to host its regular season home opener on Tuesday against Colorado Christian. The Bears will be looking to carry over momentum from the statement win Friday night.