GAME NOTES: Off to a 3-1 start in their new league, the Denver Pioneers try to continue their strong run as they clash with the Idaho Vandals in Western Athletic Conference action in Moscow on Thursday night.
Coming over from the Sun Belt Conference, the Pioneers actually lost their first WAC outing against Louisiana Tech on the road back on Dec. 29, but since then the team has rattled off three straight league victories, all of them coming against new additions to the conference as well.
Last Sunday, the Pioneers capped a quick two-game homestand with a 75-50 romp over Texas-San Antonio, the fourth win in the last five outings for Denver.
Meanwhile the Vandals, a team which began the season just 1-4, has battled back to just one game under .500 after nearly pulling off an unthinkable win against Utah State over the weekend. Unfortunately, the meeting with the Aggies went to overtime and left Idaho with an 82-75 setback, snapping a modest two-game win streak in the process.
This is just the third game all-time between these programs, with the Pioneers winning the first two matchups.
The Denver defense hammered UTSA over the weekend, holding the visitors to just 32.7 percent shooting from the floor, including 2-of-13 behind the 3- point line, building a lead as large as 40 points. Marcus Byrd came off the bench to score a team-best 12 points in just 15 minutes, followed by Chase Hallam with 11 points, to go along with five steals and four assists. Chris Udofia and Royce O'Neale both dropped in 10 points, the latter adding a game- high 10 rebounds and handing out five assists as well. The team has had a different leading scorer in each of the four conference games, which explains why only O'Neale is scoring in double figures on the average with 10.0 ppg. More importantly, the defense for the Pioneers in those contests has held the competition to a meager 51.5 ppg on 35.8 percent shooting from the floor. Overall this season, Denver has one of the stiffest defenses in the country with just 56.5 ppg allowed.
The Vandals were with Utah State every step of the way last Saturday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, but when the teams finally got to overtime Idaho took a step back. Connor Hill led four players in double figures with 18 points, followed by Stephen Madison with 14, while Kyle Barone had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Mike McChristian had one of his own with 11 points and 10 boards as well. Currently shooting 58.6 percent from the floor, Barone leads the team in scoring with 16.1 ppg and is also tops on the unit with both 8.6 rpg, but as he demonstrated over the weekend, McChristian (6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) has the potential to be a bigger contributor in the paint for the program. Madison (14.9 ppg) and Hill (10.3 ppg) are also key offensive performers, although Madison might want to think about giving up his 3-point shooting since he has made just 22.0 percent of his chances.
Assuming points will be at a premium on Thursday night, the team which has a stronger presence in the paint will likely have the upper-hand, so give the nod to the Vandals in this case.