Game #31: Denver (22-8, 11-5 SBC) vs. Western Kentucky (13-18)
Monday, March 5, 2012 • 7:30 p.m. MT
Summit Arena (6,000) • Hot Springs, Arkansas
TV: Sun Belt Network • Radio: AM 1510 & FM 93.7 • Web: www.ESPN3.com
About Denver: DU is 22-8 overall and finished 11-5 in the Sun Belt Conference, earning the No. 3 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament. The Pioneers' 22 wins are the most in the team's 89-year NCAA Division I history. Winners of five-straight games, Denver is seventh in the nation field goal percentage (.490), ninth in free throw percentage (.765), 12th in three-point field goal percentage (.399), 15th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.33), 18th in assists (16.0 per game), and 28th in scoring defense (60.7). Sophomore Chris Udofia was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and All-SBC First Team, and senior Brian Stafford landed on the second team.
About Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers finished the regular season in third place in the SBC East Division at 11-18 overall and 7-9 in the SBC. WKU has gone 8-7 since naming Ray Harper interim head coach on Jan. 6, including an upset victory over SBC champion Middle Tennessee in the season finale. WKU has won four-straight games, including a 68-63 win over UALR in the SBC Tournament Quarterfinals on Sunday. Derrick Gordon, who is averaging 12.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, was named All-SBC Third Team. The Hilltoppers, who are the eighth winningest team in NCAA history and have appeared in 21 NCAA Tournaments with one Final Four, are last in the SBC in field goal percentage (.392) and three-point percentage (.303).
The Match-up: Denver is 7-9 all-time against the Hilltoppers overall, including a 3-5 mark at Magness Arena. However, DU has won both meetings on neutral courts, including a 77-68 win in the 2005 SBC Tournament Semifinals in Denton, Texas. Denver has won the past four meetings, including a 78-65 victory at Magness Arena on Jan. 15.
DU in the SBC Tournament: Denver is 9-11 all-time in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament since joining the conference in the 1999-00 season, including Sunday's 61-50 quarterfinal win over South Alabama. Last year, the Pioneers (No. 3 seed in the West) were upset in the first round by Florida International (No. 6 seed in the East). DU is 2-3 in Hot Springs, Ark. Monday marks the fifth time that the Pioneers will play in the semifinals and the second time under head coach Joe Scott. Denver last played in the semifinals in 2010, when the Pioneers fell 63-56 to North Texas. As the No. 3 seed, DU is the highest remaining seed in the 2012 Sun Belt Tournament.
All-Sun Belt Conference: Sophomore forward Chris Udofia was voted 2012 Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year and All-SBC First Team, and senior guard Brian Stafford earned a spot on the All-SBC Second Team.
Winning Ways: The Pioneers' 22 victories this season are the most in DU's 89-year Division I history. The previous record was 20 wins in 2004-05.
Winning Numbers: As of Feb. 29, the Pioneers were one of just 54 teams to win 21 regular season Division I games. Denver ranked No. 66 in ESPN's College Basketball Power Index, No. 71 in the NCAA in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, No. 78 in the Sagarin Ratings and No. 84 in the RPI. DU was also 4-3 against the RPI's Top 100 with three wins coming against teams in the Top 50.
U-Tube: Sophomore Chris Udofia was selected as the 2012 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and an All-SBC First Team member. Despite scoring a season-low five points against South Alabama on March 4, Udofia is fourth in the Sun Belt in scoring with 14.5 points per game. The 6-foot-6 Udofia ranks 23rd in the NCAA in blocked shots (2.4 per game) and 41st in field goal percentage (.537), which are second and fifth in the Sun Belt Conference, respectively. Udofia is fourth on DU's single season list with 72 blocks, and his 111 career blocks rank fifth. This season, Udofia also ranks 12th in the SBC in assists (2.7 per game) and 15th in free throw shooting (.725).
Chief of Stafford: Senior guard and team co-captain Brian Stafford scored a team-high 14 points against South Alabama on March 4, increasing his career total to 1,567 points, the fourth-most in Denver history. Stafford also played his 123rd career game, all starts, both of which are DU records. Stafford's 261 career three-pointers are third in DU history and fifth on the Sun Belt Conference all-time three-pointers made list. This season, Stafford is second in the SBC in three-point percentage (.456), which would rank ninth in the nation but he is just shy of the minimum. Stafford is second in the SBC in three-pointers made (2.5 per game), fourth in minutes played (33.2 per game), fifth in scoring (14.3 points per game) and free throw percentage (.814), and 10th in field goal percentage (.500). Stafford tied B.J. Pratt for seventh on DU's all-time list with 318 free throw made.
Royce Rolls: Freshman forward Royce O'Neale registered his second-straight and third-career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds against South Alabama on March 4. O'Neale is 29th in the nation in free throw percentage (.864), which also leads the Sun Belt. During conference play, O'Neale was first in the SBC in free throw percentage (.904); third in steals (1.8 per game); fifth in defensive rebounds (5.1 per game); seventh in rebounding (6.5 per game); eighth in field goal percentage (.526); 15th in assists (2.3 per game); and 18th in scoring (11.4 per game).
Stealing the Show: Freshman Royce O'Neale recorded seven steals against North Texas on Feb. 26, tying a Magness Arena record originally set by Xander McNally against Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 10, 2008. As a team, the Pioneers also tied an arena record with 15 steals in the game, matching DU's total against South Dakota State on Dec. 11, 2004. Denver is second in the SBC with 7.3 steals per game, and Chase Hallam (1.6 per game) and O'Neale (1.4) rank fifth and ninth in the SBC, respectively.
Playing the Percentages: The Pioneers are seventh in the nation with a .490 field goal percentage. According to ESPN.com, DU is second in the nation in adjusted field goal percentage (57.7 percent), which gives added weight to three-pointers to determine overall offensive effectiveness. Likewise, KenPom.com has Denver ranked second in the nation in both effective field goal percentage at 57.5 percent and third in two-point field goals at 55.7 percent.
Better Than Half Full: Denver beat North Texas on Feb. 26, despite shooting just 38.7 percent (24-of-62), snapping a streak of five-straight games in which DU shot at least 50 percent of its field goal attempts. During that stretch, the Pioneers shot a combined 55.0 percent (132-of-240) from the field and 41.1 percent (46-of-112) from three-point range. Denver has shot 50 percent or better 14 times this seasons and 59 percent or better five times. Strangely, DU is 10-0 this season when shooting between 48 and 59 percent, and just 2-3 when shooting better than 59 percent.
A Little Help from Their Friends: The Pioneers have recorded an assist on 67.2 percent of their field goals (474 assists on 705 field goals) this season, the best mark in the nation, according to KenPom.com. DU has seven players averaging 1.65 assists per game or better, including Chris Udofia who is 12th in the SBC with 2.7 assists per game. The Pioneers recorded an assist on 66.1 percent of their field goals last season (371 assists on 601 field goals made), ranking sixth highest in the nation.
Can't Drive 65: The Pioneers are 22-1 when holding opponents to 65 or fewer points and 0-7 when the opponent scored more than 65 points.
The Long Rangers: Senior Brian Stafford went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc and freshman Brett Olson hit 5-of-9, as Denver tied a Magness Arena record with 16 three-pointers against ULM on Feb. 18, matching DU's effort against UMKC on Dec. 3, 2002. It also was just two makes shy of DU's all-time record of 18 three-pointers set at Southern Utah on Jan. 4, 2004. The Pioneers are ranked No. 12 in the nation in three-point shooting at 39.8 percent (250-of-628), which is also the best mark in the Sun Belt. DU is averaging 8.4 three-pointers made per game, second most in the SBC and 19th in the NCAA. The Pioneers are 10-1 this season when hitting 10 or more three-pointers with the only loss coming after hitting 11 three-pointers at North Texas on Jan. 21. Denver is just one three-pointer shy of the team's single season record, 251 set in 2009-10. DU ranked sixth in the nation and first in the SBC from three-point range last season, hitting 40.1 percent (232-of-578). The Pioneers have at least one three-pointer in 179-straight games, dating back to Feb. 2, 2006. Behind the arc, Denver has improved from 23rd in the NCAA in 2009-10 (39.5 percent), 39th (37.7 percent) in 2008-09 and 174th (34.8 percent) in 2007-08.
Academic All-American: Senior Brian Stafford was among the 15 student-athletes named CoSIDA Academic All-American, earning a spot on the third team. Stafford is a finance major with a 3.7 cumulative grade-point average. Both Stafford and Chase Hallam were named CoSIDA Academic All-District 7. As a team, the Pioneers compiled a 3.4 combined GPA in 2010-11.
Sun Belt Academic Awards: Denver student-athletes Chase Hallam, Travis Hallam, Brian Stafford, Tyler Thalken and Chris Udofia were honored prior to the quarterfinal game on Sunday as members of the 2011-12 SBC Commissioner's List by earning a 3.5 grade-point average or better. Justin Coughlin, Rob Lewis, Alex Pickert and Charles Webb were honored as members of the 2011-12 Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll for earning a 3.0-3.49 GPA. Along with former student-athletes Andrew Hooper, Kyle Lewis and Trevor Noonan, the Pioneers accounted for 35 percent of the league academic honors in basketball. Denver also earned the Sun Belt Men's Basketball Team Academic Award.
OhSoClose: Denver has lost in the final 1.1 seconds of four games this season, including a 75-74 overtime loss on a buzzer beater at North Texas on Jan. 21. The Pioneers lost on free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining in overtime at ULL on Feb. 2 and with 1.1 seconds left at Florida Atlantic on Feb. 9, as well as on another buzzer beater in overtime against Iona on Dec. 7. DU is 4-19 in overtime games since returning to NCAA Division I in 1998-99. Denver's last seven losses have come by an average of 2.9 points and none by more than seven points.
Magness Magic: The Pioneers concluded the regular season with a 14-2 record at Magness Arena this season, improving DU's record to 61-13 (.824) at home in five years under head coach Joe Scott. During that stretch, the Pioneers are also 37-6 (.860) against Sun Belt opponents at Magness Arena. In February 2012, ESPN.com's Ken Pomeroy wrote that Magness Arena was one of the top two home-court advantages in the nation.
Frequent Flyers: In the first 43 days of 2012, Denver played just three home games, while traveling to nine on the road. During that stretch, the Pioneers traveled 12,032 miles by plane and bus.
Road Show: The Pioneers went 7-6 on the road this season, 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 (see chart). In the previous five years, Denver had a combined six road victories.
Welcome to the WAC: On Nov. 11, 2010, the University of Denver accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), effective for the 2012-13 athletic season. The Pioneers will move from the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) to the WAC for 10 of their NCAA Division I sports programs. The Pioneers will join the WAC for men's and women's basketball, women's soccer, gymnastics, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis, volleyball, and women's swimming & diving. The Pioneers returned to NCAA Division I in all 17 sports in 1999-2000, when they joined the SBC. Denver has claimed 33 SBC championships since 1999. Denver has enjoyed its 12-year partnership with the SBC. The WAC also added Texas-San Antonio, Texas-Arlington, Seattle and Texas State to its league for 2012, which also includes Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. Boise State will join the WAC in all sports other than football in the 2013-14 season. The WAC is nearly 50 years old and is the sixth-oldest conference in the country. In men's basketball, the WAC has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 24 of the last 28 seasons.
Scott Signs Four Student-Athletes: Denver signed Nate Engesser (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Jalen Love (Wichita, Kan.), Bryant Rucker (Frisco, Texas) and Dom Samac (Zagreb, Croatia) to National Letters of Intent to join the Pioneers in 2012-13. Engesser, a 6-foot-3 guard, was the Colorado Class-3A Player of the Year and All-State selection last season at Colorado Springs Christian School. Love is a 6-foot-2 guard from Wichita (Kan.) East High School. Rucker is a 6-foot point guard from Frisco Centennial High School. Originally from Zagreb, Croatia, Samac is a 6-8 forward/center, who plays for North Broward Prep in Florida.