2011-12 Denver Pioneers
Courtesy: Clarkson Creative
2011-12 Denver Pioneers
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2011-12 Men's Basketball: Season Recap
Courtesy: Denver Athletics  
Release: 03/22/2012

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If the University of Denver men's basketball 2011-12 season was any indication of what fans can expect in the years to come, then the Pioneer faithful have much to look forward to.

After competing with only seven available players in his first season at the helm in 2007-08, head coach Joe Scott has proved he belongs in the ranks of the top mid-major coaches in the nation after resurrecting the Pioneers. Under the watchful eye of Scott, Denver posted a team-record 22 Division-I victories in 2011-12, including a 4-3 record against the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) Top 100.

Despite boasting a nonconference slate that included contests against seven teams ranked in the RPI Top 85, Denver compiled a bevy of signature wins, including an early victory against 2012 NCAA Tournament participant and RPI No. 18 Southern Mississippi. Along with recording wins over perennial power Saint Mary's and SBC regular season champions Middle Tennessee, DU also snapped Utah State's 33-game home winning streak, the second longest in the nation at the time. Denver was able to defeat a tough Wyoming team, who was ranked second in the nation in points allowed at the time of the teams' meeting in mid-December. The marquee victories paced the Pioneers in getting off to an 11-2 start, their best in the school's Division-I history.

The Crimson and Gold were competitive in every contest during the 2011-12 season, as their only double-digit defeat came in a road loss to Cal. Four of Denver's nine losses came in the final 1.1 seconds of the game, including three on the road. DU showed its true colors in games against some of the toughest teams in the nation, earning a 3-3 mark against the RPI Top 60 and winning those three contests by a combined 34 points.

Sophomore forward Chris Udofia (Irving, Texas) was the catalyst, leading the Pioneers in scoring 10 times and finishing second in the SBC with a team-best 15.6 points in Sun Belt-play. The Texas native showed marked improvement this season after a stellar 2010-11 campaign, finishing 30th in the nation in blocks per game (2.3) and 39th in field-goal percentage (.534). Udofia earned SBC Defensive Player of the Year along with All-SBC First Team and NABC All-District 24 honors after finishing the season tied for fourth in the SBC in scoring (14.5) and third in blocked shots.

Joining Udofia on the NABC All-District 24 First Team was senior guard and All-SBC Second Team selection Brian Stafford (Walnut Creek, Calif.). The four-year starter led the Pioneers in scoring 13 times, finishing tied for fourth in the SBC with Udofia in points per game (14.5) and converted a team-best 75 three-point field goals. Stafford and Udofia proved to be a dominant combination for the Crimson and Gold, as the duo combined for more than 42 percent of Denver's point production. In Denver's season opening victory over Portland State, Stafford recorded a career-high 32 points, including six made three-point field goals, setting the stage for the rest of the season.

The talented backcourt duo of freshmen Royce O'Neale (Killeen, Texas) and Brett Olson (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) also provided a spark for Scott and his team. Olson was asked to take the reins of the point guard position from day one and did so effectively. Despite his youth and inexperience, Olson finished the season second on the team in minutes played (32.5 per game) and led the SBC in three-point field-goal percentage (.462). O'Neale also proved to be a reliable outlet and one of the best freshmen in the conference. After flying under the radar for the early part of the 2011-12 season, O'Neale got the starting nod in five of DU's 31 games and finished the season ranked 32nd in the nation and first in the SBC in free throw percentage (.865). He also led the Pioneers in rebounding (5.8 per game) and recorded three double-doubles during SBC-play, including one in the quarterfinals of the SBC Championships.

Seniors Rob Lewis (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Justin Coughlin (Yuma, Colo.) and Travis Hallam (Mesquite, Texas) all played vital roles in Denver's success and second place finish in the SBC West Division. After being granted a fifth year due to a medical redshirt, Lewis seemed to glow when the light shined its brightest. Lewis led the Crimson and Gold in scoring during Denver's early season wins over Saint Mary's and Utah State, while contributing double-figure performances in key victories over Southern Mississippi and Middle Tennessee. He averaged 7.2 points along with 3.1 rebounds in his final season in Crimson and Gold and concluded his career after becoming the 31st Pioneer to join the 1,000-point club. Lewis and Coughlin finished their careers eighth in Denver history with 115 career games played, while Hallam sits in third with 118.

Scott has done a remarkable job in getting everyone, including the fan base, to buy into his system and the belief that Denver basketball is one of the top mid-major programs in the country. His progress as Denver's head coach has led to the program's most successful season during his tenure and a jump in overall fan support and attendance. After earning several marquee victories this season and returning a wealth of talent in 2012, the Pioneers turn their sights to the Western Athletic Conference, where DU will enter its first season of competition next year. The Pioneers will begin next season with a stellar 2011-12 campaign in their rear view and a chip on their shoulders after being upset in the semifinals of the 2012 SBC Championships. After showing the nation what it means to play Denver basketball this season, the Pioneers turn their attention toward competing for a WAC Championship in 2012-13.

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