Published: February 8, 2014
The Colorado-Colorado Springs men's and women's basketball teams didn't have to start with their backs against the wall to Colorado State-Pueblo at the second go-round of the Downtown Classic.
At the inaugural event last year, both UCCS teams trailed before the clock had even started. The Mountain Lions were assessed an administrative technical foul because the conditions at the City Auditorium failed to meet the minimum NCAA requirements for a basketball game.
Eventually, both UCCS teams were swept.
This time, however, everything at the event was up to par, including the Mountain Lions.
Derrick White scored 38 points, the second-most points in school history, and the Mountain Lions men (14-6 overall, 11-5 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) continued one of their best season's in recent memory with an 84-75 win over CSU-Pueblo (11-9, 9-7) on Saturday night. Earlier in the evening, Abby Kirchoff scored a team-high 15 points for the UCCS women (8-12, 7-9), who held off CSU-Pueblo for their 67-57 win.
In the men's game, White dazzled under the bright lights with his 12-of-21 shooting performance, as well as his defensive effort that was highlighted by an emphatic block of Stevan Radakovic's layup attempt at the 16:20 mark of the second half.
Mostly though, it was his poise that put him above the rest on Saturday. After wrenching his back on the block, White came back into the game with just over 11 minutes remaining and scored 18 of his 20 second-half points to rally the Mountain Lions from a seven-point deficit for UCCS' fifth win in a row.
"I just felt like the rim was an ocean tonight. I love playing here in this old building. Last year, I had my career-high (28 points), and then I had my career-high again this year here," said White, who scored 10 of UCCS' 12 points in a three-minute span to flip a 58-51 deficit to a 63-60 lead with 8:32 left in the second half. "It's an awesome event."
The twin-bill event was featured in front of more than 200 fans, and was played with transported hoops and shot clocks around City Auditorium's refinished floor.
"It felt a little more like a home-court advantage this time," said Mountain Lions women's coach Corey Laster.
Looked like it too in the women's game. Because for a while, the Mountain Lions looked, as Laster put it - like "the team nobody would want to face in the playoffs" - as they pushed their lead to 15 points at the half against the Thunderwolves (16-6, 13-3).
Then, for a bit, the Mountain Lions looked like the team that has struggled most of the season. In the second half, CSU-Pueblo cut the lead to four points with eight minutes remaining.
For many, it started to feel like the T'Wolves 65-64 win on Jan. 4 against UCCS, which blew an eight-point lead with just over five minutes left.
"We didn't want to do that again," Kirchoff said, as she made sure of it with seven of her 15 points coming in the final 10 minutes. "I think this time we were ready though. We knew they were going on a run, and we just bounced back and didn't let ourselves completely crumble."