GAME NOTES: The Denver Pioneers kick off their inaugural campaign in the Western Athletic Conference on Saturday, as they clash with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston.
Denver is back in action after more than a week off following its 72-47 victory against Southern Utah at home. The win was the third in the last four games for a program that opener 2012-13 with just a single triumph over the course of six games.
As for the Bulldogs, they began the campaign with a 71-59 setback against Texas A&M but then followed that up with seven consecutive wins to close out the month of November. December has been a different story however, with the program splitting four outings and barely slipping by Arkansas-Little Rock in the most recent contest on Dec. 17 by a score of 75-73 on the road.
In terms of the all-time series, the Bulldogs have taken two of the first three meetings between the two schools, the most recent of those coming in early 2001 when LaTech slipped by in a 70-68 final in Colorado.
Denver's defense was all over Southern Utah in the first half of their meeting at Magness Arena eight days ago, limiting the visitors to just 1-of-6 shooting beyond the arc and 38.1 percent from the floor overall, en route to a lopsided victory. Cam Griffin and Royce O'Neale accounted for 12 points apiece, Chase Hallam 11 and both Brett Olson and Nate Engesser 10 points each as the hosts connected on 55.3 percent from the floor and forced the visitors into 22 turnovers which became 35 points for Denver. O'Neale not only leads the program in scoring with 14.7 ppg, he is also tied with Chris Udofia (12.9 ppg) for the lead on the glass with 5.2 rpg. However, the difference between the two is that Udofia is regarded as one of the top players in the conference for a reason as he leads the program in both assists (40) and blocked shots (23) after 10 games which is no small feat.
The Bulldogs shot a dismal 36.2 percent from the field, including 7-of-24 behind the 3-point line the last time out against the Trojans almost two weeks ago, not to mention turning the ball over 17 times, yet still found a way to make it into the win column. Raheem Appleby, a native of Arkansas, responded with 17 points, Alex Hamilton tacked on 14 off the bench and Michale Kyser produced eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds as the team beat UALR on the glass by a 45-33 margin. Appleby, who scored just seven points in the first meeting of the season against the Trojans, now leads LaTech in scoring overall with 17.8 ppg, followed by Cordarius Johnson who has chipped in 11.9 ppg thanks to his team-best 24 3-point baskets. Outscoring the opposition by more than nine points per contest, the defense for the Bulldogs has held teams to just 40.8 percent accuracy from the floor.
O'Neale and Udofia are top-notch performers for the Pioneers this season, but clearly the team needs more than that in order to compete with the better squads in the WAC moving forward.
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