GAME NOTES: The Northern Colorado Bears try to remain perfect in Big Sky Conference play, as they entertain the Idaho State Bengals at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion on Saturday night.
Along with Montana State, the Bears are the only team that has yet to be defeated in Big Sky play, starting off 3-0. The team also sports the best overall record in the league at 9-3, again joining MSU as the only programs with winning records heading into the weekend. Still undefeated at home through eight games, UNC has won seven of the last eight outings overall, thanks to a 70-51 romp over Weber State two nights ago.
While not nearly as dominant over the first two months of the campaign, the Bengals should feel good about opening league play with a 2-1 mark. The squad began with victories against Portland State and Eastern Washington before being taken down by North Dakota two nights ago, 66-62.
Idaho State owns a 33-18 advantage in the all-time series after earning a split of last year's two contests.
Chris Hansen scored a game-high 24 points, shooting 6-of-11 behind the 3-point line, and also worked his way into the paint in order to clear eight rebounds, but even that sort of effort was not enough for the Bengals to hold off North Dakota. Andre Hatchett came up a rebound shy of a double-double as he tallied 11 points, followed by Jeffrey Solarin with 10 points, but overcoming a massive 23 turnovers, seven along by Tomas Sanchez, was just too much to ask for.
Hansen has produced 17.1 ppg this season, converting 42.9 percent of his 3- point tries, yet in conference play he has upped his efforts to 21.0 ppg and is shooting an even 50 percent out on the perimeter, along with clearing 5.3 rpg in order to create a serious mismatch for defenders. Sanchez checks in with 15.3 ppg on the campaign and a team-best 59 assists, but as he showed on Thursday it is not out of the realm of possibility that he can try to do too much and actually hurt the Bengals.
In addition to shooting 51.7 percent from the field in the first half, the Bears turned around and limited visiting Weber State to only 29.4 percent accuracy in the second half of their blowout win on Thursday night. Derrick Barden produced a double-double consisting of 21 points and 13 rebounds, followed by reserve Tevin Svihovec with 15 points on 3-of-4 shooting behind the 3-point line. Tim Huskisson added 12 points and five assists and Tate Unruh 10 points for the hosts as well.
With four players scoring in double figures at the moment, the Bears are one of the more balanced offensive teams in the league, led by Barden with his 14.1 ppg on 57.3 percent shooting from the floor. Barden is also tops on the glass with slightly more than nine rebounds per outing and that provides the program with a cushion of 5.1 rpg right now. Coming off the bench in recent games, Svihovec's 11.8 ppg is the sort of boost that opponents are not always ready to account for.
Undefeated at home, with an offense that can score against almost any opponent, it would be foolish to pick against a UNC team tonight that is going up against a Bengals group that has been woeful on the road.
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