A loud atmosphere with a large crowd filling the wooden seats at City Auditorium means little under the rim or down the stretch.
The Colorado-Colorado Springs men and women both found that out the hard way as visiting Colorado State-Pueblo swept the Mountain Lions at the inaugural Downtown Classic on Saturday night.
The Thunderwolves men eked out a 85-83 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference victory when UCCS freshman Derrick White’s buzzer-beating heave hit off the front of the rim and away. Earlier, the CSU-Pueblo women dominated the Mountain Lions in rebounding en route to a 66-54 win.
In the men’s game, CSU-Pueblo junior point guard Nathan Tigner hit two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to complete the comeback after the hosts took a 82-74 lead with 1:33 remaining. Inexperienced UCCS (1-9, 1-6) could not handle the pressure late.
“We needed to make a winning play down the stretch and we could not,” Mountain Lions coach Jeff Culver said. “You have to give credit to Pueblo. Their experience paid off and they made the plays.”
CSU-Pueblo’s Ryan Arel (24 points) nailed a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left to tie the game at 83-83, sending the 918 fans in attendance into a frenzy. A jump ball gave the Thunderwolves (4-9, 3-4 RMAC) possession and Tigner soon drew a foul from UCCS leading scorer White (28 points).
The event was sponsored by Memorial Health of University of Colorado Health with all proceeds going to possible renovations of the building, which opened in 1921.
There will be another Downtown Classic next season, UCCS athletic director Steve Kirkham said.
“It exceeded our expectations,” Kirkham said. “There are a lot of people here who have not been to a college basketball game in a long time. There isn’t a bad seat in the place and the lighting is great. I am as pleased as punch.”
The main floor of the auditorium was cleared for a temporary plastic court with seating on the second level along the sides and opposite the stage where a scoreboard image was projected.
Having the crowd above and close to the court made it loud by the second half of the women’s game, which a couple hundred ThunderWolves fans especially enjoyed.
The CSU-Pueblo women outworked and subsequently outrebounded the Mountain Lions (8-3, 5-2) 40-30 with a decisive 17-6 edge on the offensive glass.
RMAC leading rebounder Laurel Kearsley, who pulled down 15, including six on offense, helped the ThunderWolves enjoy a 20-7 edge in second-chance points.
“The atmosphere was great,” said UCCS sophomore Abby Kirchoff, who led her team with 14 points. “But it doesn’t matter if you get outrebounded like that. They tripled us in offensive rebounds.”
CSU-Pueblo senior guard Erica Hicks scored eight of her game-high 20 points in the first 1:28 of the second half to give the visitors a nine-point lead they would never surrender.
“The rebounding was the difference,” UCCS coach Corey Laster said. “Those offensive rebounds created a lot of open shots and those second-chance points. We’re a transition team and (CSU-Pueblo) getting those hurt us.”
The UCCS women missed sophomore forward Sam Patterson (7.9 points, 4.8 rebounds), of Peyton, one of the Mountain Lions’ best post defenders, after she suffered a knee injury over the break. Laster said the severity remains unknown pending MRI results.
The victory puts CSU-Pueblo (9-2, 6-1) in a tie for second with Metro State in the RMAC standings and continues the program’s best start. UCCS falls into a tie for third with Regis and Colorado Mines.