CU Buffs Hoops Advance To Tournament Championship

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Conventional wisdom in sports says it's good for athletes to have short memories. But once in a while, flashing back about 81/2 months and reliving the pain can be beneficial.
Baylor eliminated Colorado from the third round of NCAA Tournament last March, ending the Buffaloes' magical 2011-12 season in Albuquerque. Being shown the exit after such an unexpected run stung. Memories, the bulk of them bad, were made.

So when the brackets were drawn up for this week's Charleston Classic and Baylor and CU were cast as possible second-day opponents, the Buffs began playing "what if . . ." On Friday afternoon in the College of Charleston's TD Arena, the "what if" game morphed into the basketball game they were waiting and hoping for.

The Buffs made the wait worthwhile: CU 60, No. 16 Baylor 58. Tad Boyle's magical mystery tour continues; after beating Baylor for the first time in three tries, Boyle and his bunch advance to Sunday's Charleston Classic championship game (6:30 p.m. MST, ESPN2) against Murray State.

Buffs past and present watched and reveled in Friday's outcome. Seconds after the final horn, my email pinged and this appeared from Carlon "Throw It Down" Brown, the Most Outstanding Player in CU's four-wins-in-four-days run to the Pac-12 Conference tournament title last spring in Los Angeles: "Revenge is a dish served best BLACK AND GOLD!!!!"

Serve it up . . . Buffs from several eras wanted this one. CU earned it with Boyle's twin trademarks - defense and rebounding. The Buffs held the Bears to 37.3 percent shooting from the field, the third time in three games they've pushed an opponent under 40 percent from the field. And although CU's one rebound advantage (41-40) might not seem like much, consider Baylor's high-altitude front-line and athleticism.

Although beating Dayton by 10 on Thursday, the Buffs lost that rebound battle by two. After breakfast Friday morning, Boyle made several points to his players, leading with this one: "Be physical; defense and rebounding is our identity . . . we don't want to be out-rebounded again." He also said the Bears "rely on length and athleticism, not technique" when going to the boards.

Then there was the subject of Baylor sharp-shooter Brady Heslip, who torched CU's perimeter defense in March, hitting 9-of-13 three pointers for 27 points. Boyle's advice to his defenders for Friday's rematch: "Be there when he catches it."

CU senior Sabatino Chen (and others) were right there. Heslip hit one of his five trey attempts and finished with seven points. Chen, said Boyle, "was great chasing him through those screens, being there on the catch. That's the whole key with them. If we're there on the catch and make him put it on the floor and drive it . . . 'Sab' did a great job."

For the second consecutive game, Spencer Dinwiddie took on an opponent's top scorer/playmaker and all but put a shroud over him. On Thursday, the 6-6 Dinwiddie draped himself on Dayton point guard Kevin Dillard and rendered him mostly ineffective. On Friday, Dinwiddie's assignment was Baylor's Pierre Jackson, who had gone off for 31 points and dished seven assists in a Thursday run past Boston College. Against CU, Jackson scored 12 points and managed one assist.

"It was just a great team defensive effort," Boyle said. "You can talk about matchups all you want, but defense is a team thing and it showed . . . we talked about playing with our defensive principles, but also knowing their personnel. They've got some guys who are special at certain positions and Heslip is one of them and Jackson at the point."

But the young Buffs are showing when they are serious about going into lock-down mode, they can play with most anybody. Against the Bears, said Boyle, "We got stops when we had to . . . we had trouble scoring at times (CU shot 44.6 percent) and obviously we didn't make enough free throws (4-of-18) . . . defensively is where we won that game. We (usually) held them to one shot; we made them work for everything."

The free throw issue rearing its head here - CU was 14-of-24 from the line vs. Dayton - is one that Boyle has every reason will be solved. On Thursday he termed it a "personal" thing, and on Saturday you can bet it will become even more personal.

"We have a day off (Saturday)," Boyle said. "I think we might get to the free throw line and shoot some . . . I don't want to make it a big thing. The turnovers (17) were an issue too and we have to take care of that. There's always problems early in November that you have to get rectified, and free throw shooting is one of them.

"But I full confidence in every player on our team to step to that line . . . we recruit good shooters, they are good shooters. So when you're not making them, you rely on your defense and rebounding."

The old standbys, his twin trademarks. Maybe the most amazing thing about this two-game run here is the way the Buffs have coalesced. Chen is the team's only senior, there is a sprinkling of juniors and sophomores, and Boyle is playing four members of his six-member freshman class.

The mix is coming together nicely, but not surprisingly as far as the freshmen's productivity is concerned. Said Boyle: "You just try to coach your guys every day and get better. I don't know if I'm surprised or not. I just think . . . we knew we had to have some freshmen step up. And with freshmen it might be different guys each night. (Eli) Stalzer didn't playa lot of minutes (10), but handled the ball when he was in there and hit a big-time three in the second half. There are certain preseason games where you can develop and get your rotation going. There are others when you're a little more comfortable with certain guys in there."

Among the fab freshmen, Boyle said Josh Scott, the dos equis (Xavier Johnson, Xavier Talton) and Stalzer all have "stepped up . . . I hate to say I didn't expect much out of them because we did. I don't know what I expect day to day other than they keep learning and getting better."

Boyle pointed to Friday's final play as an example of OJT for Scott. After officials adjusted the time remaining on the clock to one second instead of 0.2, Baylor got possession and tried a long in-bounds pass to 7-1 freshman Isaiah Austin.

"We didn't want Austin to catch that ball," Boyle said. "Josh needs to just time it, and all he's got to do is punch that ball and not let him catch it. Obviously, we didn't want to foul. Time it, get a hand on it, knock it out of bounds and get the clock going . . . they got a pretty good look. It's a learning thing for Josh and if we're in that situation again he can maybe understand a little more. (Friday) he had to learn on the fly."

Fortunately, even if the learning experience was almost painfully tense, it turned out to be painless. The Buffs now have a non-conference win against a ranked team for the first time 1973. Could CU be given a Top 25 look next week?

"We might," said junior Andre Roberson, who has collected 26 rebounds in the two games here. "But I don't think ESPN has had a lot of respect for Colorado in past years. We'll see how it goes. We're going to continue to play and work hard."

No matter the future polling, the young Buffs are rolling. Friday's win, noted Roberson, "gives us that much more confidence . . . they're one of the best teams in the country. They play hard, but if we play together we can be unstoppable.

"We've definitely come along faster (than he expected). I thought we'd come along slow, but we've got great coaches who have recruited some great players. They're catching on fast and I hope they keep moving."