FORT COLLINS — Bears are apparently stronger than rams — in biology and in basketball.
The University of Northern Colorado (4-5) defeated Colorado State (6-3), 88-83, on Saturday afternoon. Alongside the women’s triple overtime thriller, UNC swept the in-state series for the first time since 2009.
It all came down to free throws, like last year. But instead of missing shots, the Bears made them.
Alumnus Bodie Hume expressed frustration with the 9-of-14 performance in 2021. He made 1-of-4 during the most recent matchup. This time, he can be happy for his former teammates. They made 15-of-17.
Graduate students Daylen Kountz and Matt Johnson led the way and were perfect from the stripe. They made all 11 combined attempts. Roughly seven took place in the final three minutes.
Senior Dalton Knecht went 3-of-4 and made two down the stretch.
“Oh, it feels good,” Kountz said. “That’s the type of game you want to be in, where you could get to the free-throw line and just ice the game.”
Northern Colorado head coach Steve Smiley drew additional comparisons to last season’s matchup. In both contests, UNC had a small lead at halftime. It extended that into double figures after the break.
Smiley said the staff reminded the team Colorado State would not go quietly. There would be “a punch coming.” Things fell apart for the Bears for a little bit, and the Rams made a run. They retook the lead with about four minutes left. The outcome was different.
“We call those four-minute wars,” Smiley said. “Every day, we (practice) multiple. ‘It’s a tie game at CSU. It’s a four-minute war. What more can we ask for?’ We came down, we made all the plays at the end.”
Smiley said — while drenched in celebratory water — the program doesn’t view this as an upset. The Bears believe they’re a good team.
Still, he acknowledges the Rams’ historic success. CSU has finished in the middle of the Mountain West or better for most of the last decade. It earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last season. The Memphis Grizzlies drafted David Roddy this summer. The Rams were picked to finish No. 4 in their league.
CSU also defeated Big Sky opponent Weber State three weeks ago by 25 points.
“I thought our guys went out (and) they took it. Those guys aren’t gonna give it to you,” Smiley said. “They’re a winning program. They are a great program, and this is a hard place to play. We went out there, and we really grabbed it. I’m so proud of our guys. It was an awesome effort.”
UNC finished 32-of-56 (57.1%) from the field and 9-of-21 (43%) from 3. The squad hit seven triples in the second half.
Northern Colorado committed 13 turnovers, which the Rams turned into 17 points, but had a better performance off the glass. It finished with 35 rebounds to CSU’s 20. Seven came from the offensive end and turned into 15 second-chance points.
Effort inside the paint led to free-throw attempts, too.
Kountz led the team with 27 points, while Johnson and Knecht added 18 each. Seven players scored multiple points and pulled down multiple boards.
Sophomore Connor Creech didn’t have any numbers during his brief outing, but he disrupted on defense.
UNC’s victory handed CSU its first home loss of the season and its first nonconference home loss in 15 games.
“That was a good game. We kind of played to our full potential,” Kountz said. “We hit shots, we guarded well, and we took their punches and were able to fight back. That’s a big thing we’ve been probably going through (for) the last two years. It’s just being able to withstand teams’ punches and still responding well.”
The Bears will play at Cal State-Northridge at 8 p.m. Saturday. They will head to Boulder to play the University of Colorado, hoping for another upset, at 3 p.m. Dec. 18. The last nonconference home game will host Air Force at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 for kids day and “Holiday Hoops.”
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