GAME NOTES: A couple of Western Athletic Conference teams jockeying for position near the top of the league standings get together in Colorado on Saturday, as the Denver Pioneers host the New Mexico State Aggies at Magness Arena.
Denver, one of the newer additions to the league after coming over from the Sun Belt Conference, has found the transition rather smooth thanks to 13 wins in 15 opportunities. Currently second in the standings behind only a perfect and nationally-ranked Louisiana Tech squad, the Pioneers are riding a seven- game win streak thanks to a 63-57 victory over Northern Iowa last weekend.
Since beginning the 2012-13 campaign with a 1-5 mark, Denver has lost a total of just three games and is 14-1 over the last 15 contests.
As for the Aggies, they took a break from the league slate last weekend in order to tangle with and defeat Texas-El Paso, 55-51, at home. The victory was the 13th in 14 tries for a New Mexico State group which is 12-3 in conference action.
The Aggies hold a 13-5 lead in the all-time series with Denver, winning the first meeting of the season back in January, 53-42, at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces.
Trailing by as many as nine points late in the second half, the Aggies somehow figured out a way to dismiss the Miners last weekend by four points. While NMSU was hitting 52.0 percent from the floor in the second half, UTEP erupted for 63.6 percent in the period yet still suffered the road loss. Kevin Aronis stepped up with 11 points in 13 minutes off the bench for the hosts, followed by Bandja Sy with 10 points and five boards in a game that featured five ties and 12 lead changes.
Taking into consideration just conference games this season, the Aggies have three active double-digit scorers in Daniel Mullings (14.8 ppg), Sy (14.2 ppg) and Sim Bhullar (11.5 ppg) as they generate 70.2 ppg versus the WAC competition. Sy (7.9 rpg) and Bhullar (7.5 rpg) play a major role in the program beating foes on the glass by more than five rebounds per game.
The Pioneers fell behind by 14 points against UNI last weekend in the first half, but the visitors to the McLeod Center ended up shooting 7-of-13 behind the 3-point line in the frame in order to establish a 32-25 lead at the break, and then hold on for the six-point victory. Except for Royce O'Neale who tallied nine points, every Denver starter hit for double figures beginning with Brett Olson with his 16 points. Chris Udofia added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists, followed by Jalen Love and Chase Hallam with 11 points apiece.
WAC foes have found it difficult to mount significant offensive campaigns against the Pioneers this season, being held to just 52.5 ppg on 29.9 percent shooting behind the 3-point line. Those squads are also turning the ball over an average of 15.4 times per contest as well. Udofia (12.1 ppg), Olson (11.4 ppg) and Hallam (10.5 ppg) are all key figures in helping Denver generate 64.8 ppg versus league opponents.
With revenge as a motivating factor, not to mention a stronger finish in conference play heading into the league tournament, the Pioneers have to slow down the pace again to give themselves a fighting chance this weekend.
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