Athletics & Recreation

Men’s basketball team turns in record season

Brian Stafford not only played in a program-record 124 games, but he started every one of them. Photo: Rich Clarkson and Associates

There is no reason to play the “What if?” game when looking back on the men’s basketball season of 2011–12.

The University of Denver Pioneers recorded the most wins in a season in their 89 years of Division I history. DU was electric at home—a trait that is becoming increasingly routine under head coach Joe Scott—and provided one of the program’s all-time highlights with a nationally televised victory against league-leading Middle Tennessee at Magness Arena.

Nevertheless, there were just enough missed opportunities to leave the Pioneers ruminating over what could have been. Three overtime losses and another late one-point heartbreaker on the road left DU with enough blemishes to lose luster in the eyes of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) selection committee.

And, in the end, an otherwise healthy season was nullified by a critical, ill-timed injury during a wide-open Sun Belt Conference tournament. Ultimately, the short-handed Pioneers were eliminated in the semifinals of the team’s final appearance in the Sun Belt tournament.

The disappointing finale to an outstanding season marked the end of the career for one of the program’s all-time greats, Brian Stafford, and also began the build-up for what should be another season of high expectations as the Pioneers move into the Western Athletic Conference for the 2012–13 campaign.

“It was the best season in school history, and we’ve taken a major step forward,” Scott says. “You have to feel good about that, just like everyone has good reason to be upset how the season ended in disappointment.

“The disappointing thing for us is we weren’t at full strength for the [Sun Belt] tournament. It just goes to show—you can win 22 games, have a good RPI and good wins, and in the end everything is tenuous. I would say we had a great season, but we still weren’t very lucky.”

It was junior Chase Hallam who suffered the key injury. Bothered by back trouble down the stretch, Hallam missed the regular season finale and DU’s victory against South Alabama in the SBC tourney. He remained on the sidelines during the Pioneers’ semifinal round loss against Western Kentucky, depriving DU of one of its top all-around performers.

Stafford and sophomore Chris Udofia, the team’s co-leaders in scoring, were among the individual stars for the Pioneers. Amazingly, Stafford not only played in a program-record 124 games, but he started every one of them. He finished his career with 1,586 points, good for fourth all-time on the DU scoring list, and his 264 three-pointers rank him third in school history.

“To not even get an NIT invite, it’s kind of frustrating when you look at some of those missed opportunities,” Stafford says. “At the same time, it was encouraging to see the level of play get so much better. Much higher than when I came in as a freshman. That means a lot to us seniors. We wanted to leave the program in a better place than when we started.”

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