GAME NOTES: Winners of three straight and 10 of their last 11 outings, the Denver Pioneers are back at home in Magness Arena on Saturday as they entertain the Idaho Vandals in Western Athletic Conference action.
On Thursday night, the Pioneers posted a 72-55 win over the Seattle Redhawks at home which moved the team to 10-2 in conference play, which is good for a second-place tie with New Mexico State heading into the weekend.
As for the Vandals, they were pitted against the aforementioned Aggies at the Pan American Center on Thursday and nearly scored the upset before being handed a 76-74 setback in Las Cruces. The defeat was the second in the last three games for a program that has alternated wins and losses over the last seven outings, and is now 5-7 in league play.
Denver won the first meeting of the season last month with a 55-49 triumph in Moscow, as Chase Hallam and Chris Udofia accounted for 14 and 12 points, respectively. The Vandals, who now trail in the all-time series by a count of 3-0, turned the ball over 18 times in the meeting.
Trailing by as many as 11 points with about six minutes remaining in regulation on Thursday night, the Vandals tied the game at 74-74 on a 3- pointer by Connor Hill with one minute remaining, but then failed to score again. Hill finished with 21 points, trailing only Kyle Barone who logged 26 points and seven rebounds for the visitors. Mike McChristian put up 12 points and Stephen Madison nine and five rebounds before fouling out. Shooting 58.0 percent from the floor these days, Barone continues to be a key figure on offense for the Vandals with his 16.8 ppg, as well as his 9.6 rpg which is more than twice as many as anyone else on the roster. Madison (14.5 ppg) and Hill (12.1 ppg) provide support, the latter having nailed down an impressive 46.6 percent of his 3-point attempts.
He scored just 10 points in the win over Seattle at home the other night, but Chase Hallam was clearly focusing more of his energy at the defensive end of the floor as he set a Denver Division I record with eight steals as the Pioneers came up with a staggering 22 thefts and forced a total of 26 turnovers through 40 minutes of action. The previous team record for steals was 18 set against Rockmont back in 1982. At the offensive end, Chris Udofia logged a team-best 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor, followed by Jalen Love with 11 points. In conference play, the Pioneers are holding foes to just 52.4 ppg, thanks in large part to Hallam who already has 30 steals in 12 contests. One of three players scoring in double figures, Hallam (10.3 ppg) is joined by Udofia (12.1 ppg) and Brett Olson (11.2 ppg) as the squad puts up an average of 64.4 ppg.
With the Denver defense hounding opponents like few others in the country, the Vandals will have a hard time generating offense, which means the visitors will probably end up being swept by their new conference mates for the season.