Game #7: Denver (1-5) vs. Mercer (4-4)
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 • 7 p.m. MT
Magness Arena (7,200) • Denver, Colo.
TV: None • Radio: AM 1510 & FM 93.7 • Web: Pioneer Vision (video & audio)
About Denver: The Pioneers are looking to bounce back from four-straight losses when they host Mercer on Wednesday night. Denver, which was ranked eighth in the nation with a 48.8 field goal percentage last season, is shooting just 38.1 percent from the field, 29.3 percent from three-point range 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-WAC 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 conference's Preseason Polls by both the coaches and the media.
About Mercer: The Bears are 4-4 and coming off a 61-56 win at Florida State. Travis Smith is the team's only scorer averaging double-digits with 11.9 points per game and T.J. Hallice has a team-best 3.9 rebounds per game. Overall, Mercer has averaged 60.4 points per game while holding opponents to 53.4. The Bears, who won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last season, were picked to win the Atlantic Sun Conference in the preseason coaches' and media polls. Daniel Coursey was selected as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, while Jakob Gollon and Langston Hall were voted to the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team.
The Match-up: This marks the first-ever meeting between Denver and Mercer.
Last Time Out: Sophomore forward Royce O'Neale scored 17 points, but the Cardinal's Dwight Powell had 29 points to spark Pac-12 power Stanford to a 71-58 win at Maples Pavilion on Dec. 2. Junior forward Chris Udofia, freshman guard Jalen Love and sophomore guard Cam Griffin each scored 10 points for the Pioneers. Udofia also had a pair of blocks to move into fourth on DU's all-time career list at 125. Powell made 10-of-13 from the field and 9-of-11 from the free throw line, as Stanford (6-3) shot 53.3 percent (24-of-45) from the floor and 87.5 percent (21-of-24) from the free throw line. Denver, whose last four opponents are now a combined 24-4, hit 40.9 percent from the floor in the game, including a season-high 61.9 percent (13-of-21) in the second half. The Pioneers also converted 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) from free throw line.
Royce Rolls: Sophomore guard Royce O'Neale scored 17 points at Stanford on Sunday, the game after he recorded career-highs with 22 points and five three-pointers at Southern Miss on Nov. 27. O'Neale is second in the WAC in minutes played (36.8), third in free throw percentage (.871), fourth in steals (2.3), sixth in assist/turnover ratio (1.4), seventh in assists (3.5), 10th in defensive rebounds (4.5), and 11th in scoring (14.0) and three-pointers per game (1.5). O'Neale finished last season ranked 31st in the nation in free throw percentage (.865), which also led the Sun Belt.
U-Tube: Preseason All-WAC First Teamer Chris Udofia blocked two shots against Stanford on Dec. 2, moving him into fourth place on Denver's career blocked shots list with 125, only three away from Ira Harge (1986-87) and five shy of Dwayne Russell (1980-82) for second place in team lore. 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.
Cut to the Chase: Denver's lone senior, Chase Hallam, is sixth in DU history with 139 career steals, just two shy of moving into fifth. Hallam is also just 34 points from becoming the 32nd Pioneer to score 1,000 career points. 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, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals in his career.
Youth Movement: With an average of only 0.85 years of experience per player, Denver has the eighth youngest team in the nation. DU has only one senior and two juniors among their scholarship athletes, while sporting six freshmen.
Half & Half: Denver has struggled out of the gate this season, averaging just 21.7 points in the first half of games while shooting 31.9 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three-point range, and being outscored by 8.0 points. In the second half, however, the Pioneers have outscored opponents by 2.7 points, averaging 36.3 points on 43.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. DU also has averaged 5.0 assists and 7.5 turnovers in the first half of games compared to 7.8 assists and 5.2 turnovers in the second half.
Magness Magic: The Pioneers are looking to snap a two-game home losing streak, the first by the Pioneers since 2008. Denver has not lost three-straight home games since head coach Joe Scott took over in 2007. DU is now 62-15 (.805) at Magness Arena under Scott. The Pioneers went 14-2 at home last year. In February 2012, ESPN.com's Ken Pomeroy wrote that Magness Arena was one of the top two home-court advantages in the nation.
A Little Help from Their Friends: DU has dished out 77 assists on 117 field goals (65.8 percent) this season, the 15th-highest mark in the nation , according to KenPom.com. Royce O'Neale and Chris Udofia are seventh and eighth in the WAC with 3.5 and 3.33 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.
Love Actually: Freshman guard Jalen Love celebrated his 19th birthday on Dec. 2 by scoring 10 points against Stanford on 4-for-6 shooting while playing 23 minutes.
The Long Ranger: Sophomore Brett Olson has knocked down 16 of DU's 44 three-pointers this season, scoring all his field goals from beyond the arc. As a team, the Pioneers have attempted 150 of their 307 (48.9 percent) field goal attempts from three-point range, the highest percentage in the nation. Olson, who leads the WAC this season with 2.67 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. The Pioneers were 10-1 last season and 1-0 this season when hitting 10 or more three-pointers. The Pioneers have at least one three-pointer in 186-straight games, dating back to Feb. 2, 2006.
Preseason Honors: Junior forward Chris Udofia was voted to the 2012-13 Preseason All-WAC First Team by both the league coaches and media.
Out of the Gate: The five teams that have beaten Denver this season have a combined record of 27-7, and each of the last four opponents have won six games. Seven of Denver's first nine opponents played in the postseason last year, including Iona, California, Colorado State and Southern Mississippi, 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.
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.