Times Staff Writer
Western Men’s Basketball — Adversity can hit hard when least expected. It can come in the form of a hotel catching fire on a team bonding trip. Brand new jerseys getting ruined before the start of the season. The team bus almost losing wheels on the way to a game.
Or losing four players in the middle of season.
All of this has happened to head coach Bradd Schafer and the Western Colorado University men’s basketball team this season.
“It’s just been one thing after another for us,” said Schafer. “You’ve got to use them as learning moments and continue to move forward and keep grinding. That’s one thing I’m proud about this group, because they have done that.”
Coming off a season in which Western finished 13-16 and made the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since 2012, it appeared that Western was poised to be a dangerous team entering the 2018-19 campaign.
Dangerous they were — to start the season — shocking every Western basketball fan by defeating Air Force Academy and fourth-ranked West Texas A&M University.
“I think the turning point happened after we dropped the game against Northern New Mexico,” said Schafer.
Western suffered a devastating, 81-73 loss to the Eagles after being up by 16 points at halftime. From there, Western ended up losing their final game of the Comfort Inn Classic to Texas A&M University-Commerce.
The Mountaineers recovered from the back-to-back losses and dominated in the Colorado Mesa University — Airport Thanksgiving Classic. Yet, after picking up their second and third wins of the season, from the outside it appeared something was wrong.
Western went on to lose their final five games before winter break — suffering three blowout losses (by 10 points or more), not including two 20-plus-point exhibition losses.
“We kind of limped into Christmas break,” stated Schafer. “We were hoping to come back clean slated at Christmas. However, I thought our team chemistry wasn’t there and some changes had to be made.”
Those changes resulted in four players — Quincy Harding, Chris West, Jaire Roberts and Mamadou Kamara — being dismissed or quitting the team.
Western is attempting to regain its composure with nine games left in the season.
“Basketball is a long season and we didn’t handle adversity the right way,” said Schafer. “It has been a rough couple of months.”
Since the recent dismissal of the four players, Schafer indicated the team has started to turn the corner and play better — and has seen an improvement in team chemistry. That was evident in the Mountaineers’ last two games against Westminster College and Dixie State University this past weekend.
Western lost both games at home by five points — and had a chance to win against Dixie State after being up by six points with 53 seconds left to play. Yet, the Trailblazers battled back and came away with a 96-91 overtime victory.
“A lot of bright spots coming off this weekend,” said Schafer “We are playing really hard right now. We just need to learn to play smarter.”
Out of the nine players who suit up for Western, three are freshman and two are sophomores. With that kind of youth on the court, Schafer is still trying to figure out how the team fits together.
“It is kind of like when I first got here,” said Schafer. “We had to build that group up, and that led to success last season.”
Western will lose only one player after this season. Brady Subart is the only senior on the roster — and the Mountaineers have already signed the top two wing players in Colorado. While this season has been difficult for Western, Subart surpassed 1,000 career points against Westminster college on Friday.
Additionally, Western has only played four games together since the loss of the four players. And it’s no secret that when a program loses its top scorer — Harding — it tends to struggle.
Western will be back on the court tomorrow, Feb. 1, hosting Colorado Christian University at 7:30 p.m.
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
WESTERN’S REMAINING 2018-19 SCHEDULE
|Colorado Christian University||Feb. 1||Home|
|Regis University||Feb. 2||Home|
|Dixie State University||Feb. 8||Away|
|Westminster College||Feb. 9||Away|
|Regis University||Feb. 15||Away|
|Colorado Christian University||Feb. 16||Away|
|Adams State University||Feb. 22||Home|
|Fort Lewis College||Feb. 23||Home|
|Colorado Mesa University||March 1||Away|