Game #5: Denver (1-3) vs. Southern Mississippi (5-0)
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 • 6 p.m. MT
Reed Green Coliseum (8,095) • Hattiesburg, Miss.
TV: None • Radio: AM 1510 & FM 93.7 • Web: Pioneer Vision (audio)
About Denver: The Pioneers are looking to bounce back from consecutive home losses when they head to Southern Mississippi this week. Denver, which was ranked eighth in the nation with a 48.8 field goal percentage last season, is shooting just 38.8 percent from the field and has scored more than 61 points only once this season. The Pioneers return seven players, including four of the top five scorers, from last year's squad that won a team-record 22 Division I games and finished second in the Sun Belt Conference West Division. Denver returns Preseason All-SBC First Team member Chris Udofia, who was voted 2011-12 SBC Defensive Player of the Year and All-SBC First Team last season. Udofia was tied for fourth in the Sun Belt in scoring (14.5 ppg) last year, and led the team in field goal percentage (.534), assists (2.6 per game) and blocked shots (2.3 per game). Additionally, Royce O'Neale is back after leading the team in rebounding (5.8 per game), Brett Olson, who was second in the SBC in three-point percentage (.456), and 2010-11 All-SBC Second Team selection Chase Hallam. DU welcomes five newcomers to the roster. In their first year in the WAC, the Pioneers were picked to finish third in the WAC Preseason Polls by both the coaches and the media.
About Southern Mississippi: The Golden Eagles are undefeated through five games, winning by an average of 7.8 points per game. USM returns just four letterwinners, including two starters, from last season's NCAA Tournament squad that went 25-9 overall and 11-5 in Conference USA, while adding 11 newcomers. Southern Miss is led by Dwayne Davis' 15.0 points per game, and Jonathan Mills has averaged 10.6 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Match-up: Denver is 3-0 all-time against the Golden Eagles, but this marks the team's first trip to Hattiesburg, Miss. The Pioneers beat USM 59-52 last season.
Last Time Out: Senior guard Chase Hallam scored 19 points and pulled down six rebounds, but the Pioneers were downed 60-53 by Colorado State at Magness Arena on Nov. 21. Sophomore forward Royce O'Neale added 16 points and a game-high five assists, while junior forward Chris Udofia and sophomore guard Cam Griffin had seven rebounds apiece. Denver turned the ball over only seven times, but the team shot just 29.5 percent (18-of-61) from the field and 17.2 percent (5-of-29) from three-point range, and the Rams outrebounded DU 47-33 in the contest. The Pioneers struggled with foul trouble throughout the game, as four players ended with four fouls and two more had three each. CSU shot 41.5 percent (22-of-53) from the field and 33.3 percent (5-of-15) from beyond the arc.
Cut to the Chase: Denver's lone senior, Chase Hallam, scored 19 points against Colorado State on Nov. 21, his highest scoring output since recording 21 points against Wyoming on Dec. 19, 2011. Hallam returned to the starting lineup after missing the final three games of the 2011-12 season due to a back injury. Prior to that, Hallam started all 90 of DU's games during his career. A 2010-11 All-Sun Belt Second Team selection, Hallam averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals during his first three seasons.
U-Tube: Preseason All-WAC First Teamer Chris Udofia recorded his first double-double of the season and fourth career against Cal on Nov. 16. Despite scoring only two points in his last outing, Udofia is tied for 12th in the WAC in scoring (13.8). He also ranks fifth in blocked shots (2.25); seventh in assists (3.50), defensive rebounds (5.25) and overall rebounding (7.5); eighth in assist/turnover ratio (1.56); ninth in offensive rebounds (2.25); 10th in minutes played (33.50); and 14th in field goal percentage (.488). Udofia was selected as the 2012 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and an All-SBC First Team member last season. The 6-foot-6 Udofia ranked 30th in the NCAA in blocked shots (2.3 per game) last year and 35th in field goal percentage (.534), which were third and sixth in the Sun Belt Conference, respectively. Udofia's 72 blocks were the fourth most in a single season at DU, and his 120 career blocks rank fifth.
Out of the Gate: Seven of Denver's first nine opponents played in the postseason last year, including Iona, California, Colorado State and Southern Mississippi (four of the first five opponents), which were in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Stanford (NIT) and Mercer (CIT) both won their respective tournaments, while Wyoming reached the CBI quarterfinals. Those seven teams won an average of 24 games last season. Additionally, DU will play home-and-homes with three WAC teams that played in the postseason - New Mexico State played in the NCAA Tournament, Texas Arlington was in the NIT, and Utah State was the CIT runner-up.
The Long Ranger: Sophomore Brett Olson has knocked down 13 of DU's 31 three-pointers this season, scoring all his field goals from beyond the arc. As a team, the Pioneers have attempted 102 of their 209 (48.8 percent) field goal attempts from three-point range, the second-highest percentage in the nation. Olson, who leads the WAC this season with 3.25 three-pointers per game, led the Sun Belt Conference in three-point percentage (.462) last season. Overall, Denver was ranked No. 8 in the nation in three-point shooting at 39.8 percent (255-of-641), which was also the best mark in the Sun Belt. DU averaged 8.2 three-pointers made per game, second most in the SBC and 24th in the NCAA. The Pioneers were 10-1 last season when hitting 10 or more three-pointers. Denver also broke the team's single season record of 251 three-pointers, set in 2009-10. The Pioneers have at least one three-pointer in 184-straight games, dating back to Feb. 2, 2006.
Royce Rolls: Sophomore guard Royce O'Neale scored 16 points and dished out a game-high five assists against Colorado State on Nov. 21. O'Neale is tied for second in the WAC and 31st in the nation in steals (2.75 per game) this season. O'Neale also ranks third in assists (4.25); fifth in minutes played (35.25); seventh in defensive rebounding (5.25) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.70); eighth in free throw percentage (.833); and 14th in rebounding (5.8). O'Neale finished last season ranked 31st in the nation in free throw percentage (.865), which also led the Sun Belt.
A Little Help from Their Friends: DU has dished out 54 assists on 81 field goals (66.7 percent) this season, the 14th-highest mark in the nation , according to KenPom.com. Chris Udofia and Royce O'Neale are tied for third and seventh in the WAC with 4.25 and 3.50 assists per game, respectively. The Pioneers recorded an assist on 66.5 percent of their field goals (484 assists on 728 field goals) last season, the highest mark in the NCAA. In Joe Scott's first five seasons at DU, the Pioneers recorded an assist on 65.7 percent of their field goals (2,120 assists on 3,228 field goals made), ranking among the top six highest percentages in the nation every year. Only Northwestern - coached by Bill Carmody, who Joe Scott served as assistant coach for at Princeton - has a longer such streak.
Road Show: The Pioneers are looking for their first road win this season after going 7-6 on the road last year, marking DU's first Division I winning road record since 1970-71 and only the ninth time in Denver's 89-year Division I history. In the previous five years, Denver had a combined six road victories.
Preseason Honors: Junior forward Chris Udofia was voted to the 2012-13 Preseason All-WAC First Team by both the league coaches and media.
National Letter of Intent: Denver signed Drick Bernstine to a National Letter of Intent to join the Pioneers in 2013-14. A 6-foot-6 forward from Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colo., Bernstine averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds as a junior, earning All-League First Team honors. Bernstine also played AAU basketball for the Colorado Miners.