GAME NOTES: The Northern Colorado Bears will try to extend their four-game win streak when they square off with the Wyoming Cowboys in non-conference action today at Arena-Auditorium.
Northern Colorado connected on three free throws in the final seven seconds to down UC Riverside, 63-60, its last time out. Although the Bears lost their last two away games to New Mexico State (67-63) and Colorado State (72-65), they began the 2013-14 campaign with a two-point victory over Kansas State in Manhattan. This will be the final tune-up for coach B.J. Hill's squad before it begins its Big Sky Conference slate on Dec. 29 versus North Dakota. Northern Colorado's 6-2 mark gives it the best record among the league's 11 members.
The Cowboys are currently on their first two-game, non-conference losing slide under fourth-year coach Larry Shyatt. Despite a strong effort, Wyoming endured a 64-52 loss at Denver before Friday's 64-52 setback to SMU in Laramie. The Cowboys managed to hit on only 34.8 percent of their field goal attempts against the Mustangs, and were outrebounded, 39-29, by the visitors. They will finish their three-game homestand on Jan. 1 versus Division II foe Western State.
Northern Colorado and Wyoming are meeting for the 72nd time, with the Cowboys holding a 52-19 advantage, which includes wins in 23 of the last 24 matchups. Wyoming picked up a 69-60 victory in Greeley last season.
The Bears closed out their recent win over the Highlanders on a 7-0 run to pull away over the final 3:12. Tate Unruh knocked down five shots from beyond the arc in the opening half and finished the game with 24 points and 10 rebounds. The senior guard is averaging 12.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per tilt after his second career double-double. Senior forward Derrick Barden is pacing Northern Colorado with 14.1 ppg and nine rpg. Barden has scored in double figures in his last three outings and drained 66.6 percent of his field goal attempts over that span. The Bears are second among Big Sky Conference teams in field goal percentage (.480) and lead the league in scoring defense with only 64.8 points allowed per game.
Larry Nance, Jr. has been sensational while leading the Cowboys in recent weeks. The junior forward has posted 23.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per tilt over his last four outings and recorded double-doubles in back-to-back games. Junior guard Riley Grabau will be looking to break out of his slump. Grabau's scoring average has dropped to 12.3 ppg after being held to 10 total points on 30 percent efficiency from the field in his past two games. Wyoming is last in the Mountain West Conference in scoring offense at 68.5 ppg, but second in points allowed (61.9 ppg).
These defensive-minded squads should match up rather evenly. Considering Shyatt's history in non-league play, it is highly unlikely the Cowboys fall again in their own arena. However, the Bears have pulled off one upset already and have built up a great deal of momentum during their current win streak.
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