Coaches often say there is no such thing as a moral victory, and maybe that is true. But Coach BJ Hill and the rest of the Northern Colorado program should have gone to bed on Friday night excited about their team, their program, and their season. Northern Colorado fell 72-65 to Colorado State, but it was a game they controlled for much of the second half. After the game CSU coach Larry Eustachy said, "They're better than us right now," and that the Bears could win the Big Sky. I am starting to think he might be right about that.
Let's start with the reasons that the Bears lost, before we move onto the positives. The biggest key was that they simply could not match CSU's size and athleticism in the frontcourt. CSU grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and had 18 second-chance points, compared to zero for the Bears.
The other key down low for the Rams was JJ Avila, who showcased a full variety of offensive skills, shooting 9/13 from the floor and 10/10 from the stripe on the way to a 28 point evening. This was a night for Connor Osborne to forget. Against a frontline as long and fast as CSU has, Osborne simply is not quick enough to make an impact. While not all five of his fouls seemed legit, he was out of position at times defensively, missed boxouts, and could not establish any type of position offensively. Fortunately for him, there are no frontlines like Colorado State's in the Big Sky.
The other key to this game, at least down the stretch, was officiating. Let me say it this way - reffing was not THE reason they lost, but it was a reason. At times down the stretch, it was like CSU initiated a little bit of contact and dared the refs to call a foul - and they obliged. All told, CSU show 25/33 from the stripe. It wasn't necessarily that the refs weren't calling things both ways, it was just that it seemed that they were calling fouls that weren't there, and they happened to be going against the Bears. But that's enough whining about the refs.
For the positives... that is the best I have seen Tevin Svihovec play. I will be the first to admit that during much of the offseason, he was kind of the forgotten man for me. Tonight, he showed his talent. He scored 20 points, including 2/3 from downtown and 6/6 from the charity stripe. He was the Bears best offensive player. It is an interesting dichotomy to watch the varying styles of him and Corey Spence...Svihovec is a very good penetrator using strength and footwork, while Spence got into the lane with pure quickness.
If Svihovec was UNC's best player in this game, the most pleasant surprise to me was Corey Spence. Hopes were high for him heading into the year, and he looks like exactly the player they have been needing. He finished with 11 points and six assists, but it's more than that. He pressured the ball full-court and played solid man defense. He played with an attitude and swagger that was fun to watch. The added dimension of him and Jordan Wilson (who played just nine minutes in this game, but has had a nice start to his career) give the Bears a couple guys that will wear opposing guards out.
Lastly, the Bears as a whole just look a lot more quick and active defensively than last season. Dominique Lee is another guy upfront that can defend multiple positions with his athletic ability, and he will have better days than this one. The Bears have struggled with quickness the last couple of years, but that shouldn't be the case so much this year. They look good.
It's a loss for UNC, but you couldn't have watched the game without coming away impressed by the Bears' talent and toughness. They are going to win a lot of basketball games this year.
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