Mustangs @ Colorado Mesa
The roller coaster ride that has been the Mustang’s season continues tonight, hopefully ready to take an uptick and not another steep drop. WNMU heads to Grand Junction to take on Colorado Mesa University in a must win game for the Mustangs. Mired in a road game losing streak that goes all the way back to December 3rd, when the Stangs lost to Metro State after getting the win at Regis, WNMU has played a whole lot of close games on the road but just can’t get over the hump. Even those 2 game that were double digit losses saw the Mustangs with chances to get the win late in the game only to be lost at the free throw line when the Mustangs had to foul.
Tonight the Mustangs will look to avenge 1 of only 2 home losses they’ve suffered this season at the hands of the Mavericks, 71-57 on December 9th (the other a 1 pt loss to the nationally ranked Orediggers of CSM). CMU and WNMU have some similarities; CMU is 9-2 at home, 2-7 on the road. The Mavs also play very good defense at home, giving up less than 56 points a game. Last night they gave up 60 to Highlands in an 18 pt win; they held Metro State to just 47 pts 2 weeks ago; on the same weekend they held Regis to a 36 pt total.
Mesa is currently sitting in 5th place hoping to move up into that all important 4th spot in the conference. They still have to go on the road to Adams and Ft. Lewis after hosting Western State next week, so they have a tough row to hoe getting into the top 4 spots. There is certainly no love lost between these two teams. Coach Jim Heaps of CMU hates WNMU; he has gone off after losses in Silver City about cheating referees; even chased a couple of officials out of the gymnasium accusing them of cheating. Which is ironic because the reputation at CMU is that they use Grand Junction officials to get that home court edge. Whether that’s true or not, you still have to play the game and you go in knowing that you are not going to get any breaks, so deal with it.
WNMU on the other hand is trying to get a win, get to 11 wins on the season and just get into the playoffs. For the first time in several weeks, we are on the outside of that group of teams. But we can help ourselves a lot with a win. The key is to get our defense and offense clicking at the same time, the way it does at home. That’s going to be tough not only because of CMU’s tough defense but because WNMU will be faced with the task of trying to stop 3 or 4 players who can score in bunches. Michael Bear, 5-7 205 Sr F/C, is averaging 16 pts a game in conference play to go along with 5 rebounds. He hits 52% of his shots, can shoot the 3 but won’t too often. Bear hit for 18 against the Stangs down in Silver City on 4 of 8 shooting but did real damage at the line hitting all 10 of his charity shots. He will put pressure on the Mustangs’ interior defense.
The brothers Burgon, Colton, 6-8 205 Jr F, and Chandler, 6-8 225 Jr C, have been the other top scorers for the Mavs. Colton is the only other Mav to average double figures in scoring with 12 a game. He shoots everything from inside, crashes the offensive boards hard and makes 58% of his shots. Chandler by comparison is a slacker hitting only 51% of his shots and averaging 5 pts a game. Chandler had 20 pts just last week and plays solid defense. Colton has been the leading scorer for Coach Heaps 4 of the last 6 games averaging just over 18 per game in that 4-2 stretch.
The other guy to worry about Mike Melillo, 6-5 190 Rf G; it’s not so much his scoring, 9 per game or his assists, 2 per game but his rebounding. He grabbing a team high 6 boards per contest. He has more offensive rebounds, 101, than any other teammate has total rebounds, except for Colton, who has 103 total rebounds on the season. Melillo only has 129 boards on the season. He gets inside and gets his points off of offensive rebounds and lay ups. In the first match up WNMU held him to 3 rebounds total. That will be key tonight. Dark horse for the Mavs, Jeff Hart. He had 11 against the Stangs on 3-10 shooting but gets to the free throw line a lot, where he hit 7-10 in the first game.
Poor shooting in the first half doomed the Mustangs against the CMU earlier this season. WNMU hit only 21% of their shots, 1-7 from downtown. In the second half it wasn’t much better as the Stangs hit 29% and were 3-18 from long range. They did hit 19-23 FT attempts to stay close. Our defense slowed the Mavs down, they hit only 39% on the night and only took 6 three point shots, making 2. The Mavs got 28 of their points in the paint, 15 coming off of offensive rebounds. WNMU however got 26 points off of turnovers forcing 24 and getting 14 steals. That will be a big key for the Stangs tonight, get the easy buckets off of turnovers and steals. Also limit CMU’s rebounding; they held a 50-34 edge in the first contest, but a lot of those were off of missed three point shots that went over the top of the Mustangs.
Chad had a good game against CMU, 8-16 for 23 points. T. J. was mired in a shooting slump, hit only 3-16 but got 15 points hitting 9-12 from the FT line. While Juan added 9 points and 2 assists, he did have trouble protecting the ball, losing it 8 times. I have no doubt he’ll improve on that number tonight. Chris Mason was still early in his collegiate career at that point; look for him to be a big factor tonight if he can get off to a quick start scoring and rebounding. Brelan Berry may be angry and ready to hit for 10-12 pts and grab 7-8 boards. This game will likely be very similar to the one in Silver City; but if the Mustangs shoot the more like they did last night, it’s a road win for the purple and gold.