CIT First Round Recap - Northern Colorado vs Portland
Northern Colorado 81, Portland 73
There's running with arriving late to the party; especially if you're going to make the type of entrance that the Northern Colorado Bears made in their first-ever Division I postseason appearance. Tad Boyle's Bears took a 34-30 halftime lead and dropped 47 second-half points on the Portland Pilots en route to convincing win over a team that many had pegged for the Big Dance earlier in the season.
The Big Picture: The Bears blew open an otherwise close game in the second half by shooting a scorching 72 % from the field. Led by senior guard Will Figures' 14 points, the Bears' starting five combined to shoot 11-of-16 from the field in the decisive half. Figures also sank 7-of-9 freebies to help the Bears stave off Portland's comeback bid. Continue to blister the nets the way they did on Tuesday, and the men from Northern Colorado will be a very tough out in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
The Good: Will Figures has been a stud all season, but he was superlative in Northern Colorado's win Wednesday night. Not only did he lead the Bears with 20 points, he also dropped 5 dimes and snared 4 boards. If March has become the province of guards, then Figures just might lead Northern Colorado to run for the CIT title.
The Bad: While nobody's idea of a lockdown defensive side, Portland's defense, or lack thereof, in the second half Wednesday night was the stuff of U.S. International in the 1980s or Virginia Military Institute teams of recent vintage. Northern Colorado has been a decent shooting team all season – it shot 44.5 % from the field on the season, which puts it in the top tertile – but the Bears aren't sharp enough to shoot 72 % in the second half without Portland playing some serious sieve-like defense.
The Ugly: Poor defense is a symptom, but Portland's lack of toughness was apparent on Wednesday night, as Northern Colorado outscored the significantly taller Pilots 35-20 in the paint. Figures routinely broke down Portland's defense off the dribble, creating oodles of point-blank looks for his teammates. Not even the Washington Generals give way as easily as does Portland.
Portland head coach Eric Reveno is going to be a candidate for the Oregon gig. Whether or not he leaves, the Portland program is in decent shape. The Pilots should continue to be a fly in Gonzaga’s and St. Mary's ointments for the foreseeable future. Tad Boyle has more pressing things than job interviews to worry about. His Bears survive and advance in the CIT. While his Northern Colorado crew may not get a home game for the CIT quarterfinals, the fact is that Figures might just be the best guard still playing in the CIT, so a Northern Colorado run to the CIT title game wouldn't be that surprising.
By Tim Coyne
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