The absurdity of my trip to watch Northern Colorado play at Wyoming began before I had even entered the somewhat strangely-named Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
I made the trip with my brother, a current UNC student. When we pulled into what we thought was the parking lot, we were asked for a permit, which we did not have. We were told to head over to 19th Street, which we did, presuming we would find a parking lot there.
Alas, there was no 19th Street parking lot, just a road with cars parked along either side as far as they eye could see.
We ended up parking almost a half mile from the arena, and by the time we reached our seats, the Bears led 7-3 with 15:43 to play in the first half.
Arena-Auditorium was much more subdued than the other two Mountain West venues (Moby Arena at Colorado State and Clune Arena at Air Force) I've been to. 4,360 people were in attendance at the 15,000-seat arena, and the student section was essentially non-existent. There were students there, but they were just sitting and cheering at appropriate times, no standing, no organized chants, nothing, a pretty lame effort for a school above the Red Line, if you ask me.
Three minutes later, the game was tied at nine and the foul count was UNC 7, Wyoming 0. I'm not saying there was some home-town bias going on here, but the foul count was 7-0 and it took nearly nine minutes for the esteemed men in stripes to call a foul on the Pokes.
The questionable officiating was not unexpected, however, as UNC had played in Wyoming in 2009 (albeit at a "neutral" site in Casper) and had managed to be called for 31 fouls in a 76-70 loss in which Wyoming shot 43 free throws to the Bears' 18.
Wyoming closed the first half with a 21-2 run while the Bears' three most productive players, guards Tate Unruh and Paul Garnica and center Connor Osborne, were on the bench with foul trouble, and led 32-14 at the break. In all, seven Bears finished the first half with a pair of fouls.
I mention the officiating because it was undoubtedly a storyline, there were 58 fouls called and 71 free throws attempted in the game. The officiating was not good in the second half, but it was fair, and the two teams played to within a point of one another after halftime, with Wyoming winning the second half, 43-42, and the game, 75-56.
The performance from Northern Colorado was subpar to say the least. The Bears shot just 62 percent from the line and had just four assists against 17 turnovers.
The fact that UNC is a very young team, with eight freshmen, six sophomores and a junior JuCo transfer, playing its first road game was obvious.
Garnica did seem to find some confidence late in the going, hitting three 3-pointers en route to a career-high 18 point performance.
My brother and I surmised on the half-mile walk back to the car that the Bears would likely learn from the experience and grow as a team, though it won't be getting much easier for them anytime soon. Their next two games are at Northern Iowa and Iowa State.
at WYOMING 75, NORTHERN COLORADO 56 11/15/2011
NORTHERN COLORADO 0-2 (0-0) -- C. Ederaine 6-6 3-4 15; E. Lloyd 1-3 3-5 6; P. Garnica 6-15 3-3 18; T. Unruh 0-3 0-0 0; M. Proctor 2-5 1-4 5; T. Svihovec 0-1 2-3 2; C. Osborne 2-4 5-7 9; T. Huskisson 2-3 5-5 10; E. Addo 2-3 1-5 5; B. Douvier 0-2 1-2 1; B. Keane 0-1 0-0 0; A. Hawk-Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-40 21-34 56. WYOMING 1-0 (0-0) -- F. Cruz 6-10 16-20 30; A. Waddell 5-8 6-6 16; L. Martinez 4-11 1-1 11; R. Watsabaugh 1-2 0-2 2; D. Gilmore 0-4 2-2 2; L. Washington 1-2 1-2 3; J. Luster 1-1 3-4 6; A. Bouedo 2-3 0-0 5; L. Nance Jr. 0-2 0-0 0; R. Grabau 0-0 0-0 0; A. Muojeke 0-0 0-0 0; J. Bentz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-43 29-37 75.
Three-point goals: NOCO 5-14 (M. Proctor 0-1; E. Addo 0-1; E. Lloyd 1-3; T. Unruh 0-2; P. Garnica 3-3; T. Svihovec 0-1; T. Huskisson 1-2; B. Douvier 0-1), WYO 6-20 (J. Luster 1-1; L. Washington 0-1; A. Bouedo 1-2; R. Watsabaugh 0-1; F. Cruz 2-4; L. Martinez 2-9; D. Gilmore 0-2); Rebounds: NOCO 25 (C. Osborne 8), WYO 27 (R. Watsabaugh 5); Assists: NOCO 4 (T. Svihovec 2), WYO 11 (D. Gilmore 3); Total Fouls -- NOCO 32, WYO 26; Fouled Out: NOCO-P. Garnica; WYO-L. Washington.