BOULDER - Here's the way Tad Boyle sees a night against an opponent as hot as Air Force was in Sunday's first half: "If they're going to make jump shots, shoot threes, over our hands for 40 minutes, then after the game we'll shake hands and congratulate them."
At game's end at the Coors Events Center, Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes did indeed wind up shaking hands with the Falcons at mid-court - but it wasn't because the visitors' long-range marksmanship continued.
Air Force cooled off and CU rolled on. Impressively. The No. 23 Buffs remained unbeaten by zooming past the previously unbeaten Falcons 89-74 for their first 5-0 start since the 1989-90 season.
"I think people understand now about Air Force and why we were nervous after the first half," Boyle said. "They're well-disciplined, well-coached . . . we did a great job of taking away their layups, but it's pick your poison against Air Force."
AFA (5-1) shot 57.1 percent (8-of-14) from beyond the arc in the first half, but still trailed 41-39. In the second half, with the Buffs putting more defensive emphasis on getting around/through flair screens and ball screens - and believing the visiting shooters couldn't stay that torrid - the Falcons cooled to a more earthly 25 percent (4-of-16) from three-point range.
The Falcons finished the game at 40.6 percent (13-of-32) from long range, with the Buffs at 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) for the night. But CU had more of everything: the Buffs made the board battle a joke, winning it 46-19; they dominated in the paint, 40-18; they had 18 second-chance points to the Falcons' four; and they sank 22-of-28 free throws. That last stat came after players shot 100 free throws each for a couple of practices preceding the Falcons' trip north.
Freshman post Josh Scott posted his first 20-point night at CU, junior forward Andre Roberson got back in his double-double groove (18 points, 13 rebounds) and the sophomore backcourt of Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker contributed 15 points each.
"This team, when we're balanced, we have lot of different weapons," Boyle said. Of the 6-10 Scott's performance, he added, "He's a great post player; he showed signs of why he was so highly regarded . . . his shot is not always the prettiest, but it goes in. Our guys believe in Josh."
Scott said the Buffs' standard plan is to work inside out "to me, Dre (Roberson) or 'X' (Xavier Johnson) . . . that's always a constant thing."
Just a guess, but CU Boyle's message at halftime probably centered on making life a little more difficult for the Falcons' marksmen. They came to Boulder averaging 10.2 treys a game, and by intermission they were just about there, hitting eight of 14 (57 percent).
Still, CU led 41-39, matching AFA's percentage from behind the arc but just not attempting or hitting as many (four of seven). Instead, the Buffs got their points in a variety of ways from a variety of players. Boyle used 10 players in the first 20 minutes, and nine of them scored.
Before the Falcons' barrage of threes - they made six in the first half's final 10 minutes - the Buffs had taken an eight-point lead (19-11) and appeared to have the visitors on their heels. Not so.
Air Force came soaring back behind Todd Fletcher, who scored nine consecutive points to bring his team to within three (23-20). Then, a DeLovell Earls three-pointer tied the score with 10:41 remaining before intermission. From there, CU managed to go up by as many as five (36-31), but AFA stayed hot from behind the arc in the final 4:30, hitting its last two treys to trail by only two at the break.
The second half's most immediate questions: Would the Air Force cool off, or could CU make that happen? Yes and yes.
Said Scott: "I thought they were definitely going to get tired and were not going to make those shots in the second half. We were contesting them."
Added Roberson: "They came out hot . . . but they wouldn't be able to do it for all 40 minutes."
Halfway through the final 20 minutes, the Falcons had added three more treys to their total - but they weren't sizzling. And the Buffs had rolled to their largest advantage of the night (67-58) to that point. They used a 9-2 run highlighted by an Eli Stalzer trey against the AFA zone and a Roberson steal/stuff that juiced up the crowd of 10,607.
At the 7:47 mark, CU had gone ahead by 10 (71-61) on a pair of Dinwiddie free throws. Another pair from Scott and a nifty layup by Booker with 5:19 to play opened a 14-point CU advantage (75-61).
To catch up, the Falcons would have to go on another three-point binge, but it didn't happen. The Buffs steadily pulled away.
CU plays Texas Southern Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Coors Events Center.
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