DENVER - On a night when the usual suspects did the bulk of the damage for UCCS, it was reserves Darius Pardner and TreShawn Wilford solidifying the Mountain Lions' first trip to the RMAC finals.
Pardner intercepted Brian Muller's pass at the top of the key with 11 seconds remaining and was off to the races before being fouled and connecting on two free throws to deliver No. 3 UCCS a 75-70 victory against No. 2 Colorado School of Mines on Friday night in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Shootout semifinals at Auraria Events Center.
The Mountain Lions (21-7) face the top-ranked team in Division II, Metro State (27-1) on Saturday.
"When you are closing out on somebody, coach always preaches get your hands up," Pardner said of his fourth steal of the game. "I got a hand on it and was able to make a play on it and get to the free-throw line."
The junior's two free throws gave UCCS a 75-70 lead after Wilford made two free throws for a 71-70 advantage with 1:49 remaining for the Mountain Lions first lead since a little over five minutes.
UCCS trailed No. 9 Colorado Mines (24-4) by as many as nine points in the second half.
Prior to Wilford's free throws, sophomore Derrick White, who made a game-winning free throw in Tuesday's game, offered the UCCS freshman words of encouragement and said "to relax and make two."
"Going up to the line I was very nervous at first because it was a big shot to make," Wilford said. "(Derrick's support) really meant a lot."
White finished with 21 points to become the seventh player in program history to surpass 1,000 career points and sparked UCCS back to life with 4:22 remaining with an alley-oop dunk on a feed at the top of the key from Pardner to cut the Orediggers lead to 68-62.
Pardner, who finished with 14 points, later pumped fake past a biting Trevor Ritchie and spotted up for a 3-pointer that made it a one-point game, 70-69, with 2:23 to go.
"I knew he was going to lunge on me," Pardner said. "That's one of the moves I have. I pump fake and get to my strong hand."
Orediggers coach Pryor Orser wasn't surprised by Pardner's performance.
"I always thought he was really a key for them," Orser said. "When we do our preps, I say 'Pardner is the X-factor in this game.' If he gets freed up he can change the game, and he did."
UCCS coach Jeff Culver credited Pardner, Wilford, Baker and Tim Billingsley (nine points) for helping the Mountain Lions rally.
UCCS sophomore Alex Welsh (16 points) played through a left ankle injury.
"Derrick and Alex have become sort of the rocks of our foundation and they can't do it by themselves," Culver said. "We have always thought our strength is our depth and we feel like on any given night there are a bunch of guys that can help us."