GAMES NOTES: The Northern Colorado Bears take aim at their first three-game winning streak this season when they take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in Big Sky play at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Back-to-back wins against Portland State (67-50) and Eastern Washington (72-56) has the Bears riding consecutive victories against Division I foes for the first time this season. The Bears are still just 5-11 overall but have managed to fight their way to respectability in conference play at 3-5. In road contests Northern Colorado has been miserable though with just a single win in nine tries. Northern Colorado will face Sacramento State on the road next.
As for Northern Arizona, a 60-55 win over Idaho State last Saturday put an end to a four-game losing streak. Like Northern Colorado, the losses have come more easily than wins for Northern Arizona which is just 6-12 overall, including a 3-5 mark against league foes. The Lumberjacks have split their first six games at home where they will also be on Saturday against North Dakota.
The Bears have really been racking up the wins against Northern Arizona of late. Northern Colorado has won four straight and six of the last seven contests between these conference foes. However, Northern Arizona still leads the all-time series 9-7.
Although it managed to shoot only 38.3 percent from the floor itself, Northern Colorado got by Eastern Washington thanks in part to its efforts from 3-point range (11-of-23) and the free-throw line (15-6). The Bears also held a sizable 47-29 advantage on the boards and a 14-4 edge in points off turnovers.
During its winning streak Northern Colorado has begun to show some ability on the defensive end that it has lacked this season. Overall the Bears are letting up 70.5 points per game on the campaign but in the last two games the squad has let up 53 points a contest, while holding both opponents to less than 40 percent shooting. That is a welcome sign for a team that has been mediocre scoring 68.7 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting. Tate Unruh (12.9 ppg) is the leading scorer for the Bears, while being joined in double figures by Derrick Barden (11.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Tevin Svihovec (10.3 ppg). Barden also ranks third in the conference in rebounding.
It was a mix of solid defense and success from 3-point range that carried Northern Arizona over Idaho State. The Lumberjacks limited the Bengals to just 40.8 percent shooting while outscoring them 24-9 from beyond the arc. An 8-2 run in the final minutes by the Lumberjacks proved to be too much for the Bengals to overcome in the matchup.
It isn't much of a secret where Northern Arizona turns to get its offensive production. Dewayne Russell (16.3 ppg, 3.3 apg) is the leading scorer not only on the roster but in the conference, while Gabe Rogers (14.7 ppg) is ranked fifth in the league. Other than Max Jacobsen (8.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), no other player on the roster is scoring more than 6.1 points per game for the Lumberjacks. Despite having two of the five best scorers in the conference the Lumberjacks are still ranked just ninth in the league in scoring (66 ppg). What has been even more troubling is the type of defensive efforts they have put forth, as the Lumberjacks let up 76.5 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting.
Though Northern Colorado has begun to pick up steam, on the road against a team with two prolific scorers, the Bears will regress.