Cougars hit the road to take on defending national champs

The Western Nebraska Community College men's basketball team showed just how explosive of an offensive team they will be this season after going 1-1 at a tournament in Gillette, Wyo., over the weekend while averaging 101 points in the two games.

The Cougars defeat Gillette College 98-78 on Friday and the fall to Sheridan College 107-104 in overtime on Saturday to open the 2012 season. The Cougars lit up the scoreboard individually as well. Willie Mangum, the freshman from Richmond, Virg., led all scorers against Sheridan with 39 points.

Mangum is now third in the nation in scoring with a 30 per game average. Mangum also had 21 points in the Gillette win. Mangum has nailed 14 3-pointers so far this season, including 9 of 17 in the Sheridan loss.

Mangum, who was the second-leading scorer in Virginia last year, said it isn't a surprise that this team is scoring points. What they need to do better is play defense.

"We have played better than we have in the past weeks, but we could have played a lot better," Mangum, the 6-foot-1 guard, said. "It is just proven that when we score a lot, we also need to play better defense. We are getting better and better every week. I am not surprised at all with our offense because we can shoot and we have a lot of scorers and big men."

Magnum said this team can go a long ways after what he saw of the team in the first two games.

"We can go far because we have a great team," he said. "Once we come together and start gelling, we will be good. We have improved every week since playing in the gym. We started out slow in the first jamboree, then the next jamboree we were winning and the next jamboree we went undefeated. We kept improving and this coming up game will be a big test for the whole team."

Scoring is not a problem for either the team or Magnum. In fact, Magnum said scoring is something he loves to do. And, when he isn't scoring, he loves dishing off the ball to his teammates to get them points.

"At my high school, I was always the leading scorer where I averaged 29 points," he said. "Saturday I was just in a rhythm. I was knocking down all my shots and I felt confident. It felt good to get the 39 points, but we lost so it really didn't matter."

Magnum said the strength of his game is scoring.

"I was the second leading scorer in Virginia in the Top 20 scorers in the nation, so I can score," he said. "I can get to the rim, I can shoot, and I am a good distributor, too. I can also pass the ball. I just want to win."

After opening with a 1-1 record, the road doesn't get any easier as they will travel to Levelland, Texas, to face the defending national champions South Plains College on Tuesday. South Plains enters the contest at 2-0 after beating Ranger College 97-90 and Monterrey tech 95-33 at the Odessa Classic.

Mangum said playing this tough early-season schedule will pay off later in the season.

"It will be exciting because they are No. 1," he said. "We have to bounce back and if we beat this No. 1 team, it will put Western Nebraska on the map."

This past weekend definitely was a positive sign for a young Cougar team that returns just two players that saw action last season in Tahir Little and Sebastian Suarez. Suarez, however, is sidelined with two broken wrists after a fall in a scrimmage game in October.

After the South Plains contest, the Cougars continue playing defending Region IX champions as they take on the College of Southern Idaho and Salt Lake Community College in a Region 9/18 challenge in Casper, Wyo., this weekend.

"It is good that we are playing the best teams because we want to play the best," he said. "To be the best, you have to play the best and beat the best."

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