CU Men's Basketball
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The Buffaloes capped the season with their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth-straight 20-win season.
CU finished the campaign 23-12 and a 10-8 Pac-12 Conference record. The 23 wins were the third-most in school history and the 10 wins in conference play tied five others schools for third overall. Due to head-to-head scenarios and tie-breakers, CU was the fifth seed at the conference tournament.
Among the awards presented Wednesday night were the Jay Humphries Assist Award (Askia Booker) and the Stephane Pelle Rebounding Award (Josh Scott) for most assists and rebounds, respectively during the season.
Source: CU Buffs
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
ORLANDO, Fla. – The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had a slightly higher opinion of Colorado than it did Pittsburgh. The Panthers must have taken it personally, and they took it to the Buffaloes in almost every way imaginable here Thursday.
No. 9 seed Pitt pounded No. 8 seed CU here in the NCAA’s second round, sending the Buffs back to the Rocky Mountains with a crushing 77-48 loss at the Amway Center.
CU made its third consecutive NCAA Tournament trip – a school record – but also made it a second straight “one-and-done” NCAA visit, with Thursday’s 29-point loss the school’s largest ever in NCAA play. The Buffs were eliminated 57-49 by Illinois in last March’s first tourney game in Austin, Texas.
CU dropped to 1-3 in NCAA Tournament competition under fourth-year coach Tad Boyle, but at 23-12 finished the 2013-14 season with the third-highest win total in school history. Yet it might take a while for Boyle to dismiss Thursday’s smack down and reflect on the Buffs’ overall accomplishments this season.
“We’re obviously extremely disappointed with our performance today,” he said. “Credit goes to Pittsburgh; I don’t want to take anything away from them. They’re a great team. They’ve had a great year. They’re good players and (have) a very good coach. But the Buffaloes for some reason or another did not play the way we’re capable of playing. As a coach you take responsibility for that, which I do, but we’re just very disappointed.”
Pitt (26-9) advances to Saturday’s third round, with its likely opponent top-seeded, top-ranked Florida. The Gators were heavy favorites against No. 16 seed Albany later Thursday afternoon. A 16th seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in NCAA play.
The Buffs never led, never threatened and were never given – or maybe never gave themselves – a chance. Tourney games matching 8-9 seeds can be touch-and-go; this one was take a beating and go home. Pitt controlled the opening tip and everything thereafter.
CU had experienced a few bad first halves this season – both regular-season Arizona losses come immediately to mind – but nothing as horrific on this big a stage. The Wildcats defeated the Buffs twice during the regular season (69-47, 88-61) and eliminated them from the Pac-12 Tournament (63-43).
By intermission, the Panthers led 46-18 and had dealt the Buffs their worst halftime deficit of the season, held them to their lowest first-half point total, their lowest field goal total (five) and harassed the Buffs into 10 turnovers – the second most in a first half this season.
“You go in at halftime down 28, there’s not a lot you can say to your guys positively,” Boyle said. “Other than the fact that we had to come out and compete, that’s what . . . (but) you shouldn’t have to ask your guys to do that.”
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said his team’s ferocious defensive start “was pretty good, there’s no question about it” and “probably” the Panthers’ best defensive half of the season. “Maybe the North Carolina game early, first half, Wake Forest was very good,” Dixon said. “The good thing is we’re talking about the last week or so, so we’re a better team now than we were earlier in the year. That’s what you hope to be . . .”
CU sophomore guard Xavier Talton said Pitt and CU’s fellow Pac-12 member Arizona were “pretty similar, actually (on defense). I know they were getting to the ball. They were getting 50/50 balls, as well. It just seemed like they wanted it more.”
CU’s 10 first-half errors – 17 for the game – presented Pitt with 12 of its 46 first-half points with another 24 Panthers points coming from inside the paint and 12 more off of fast breaks (14 for the game). Pitt might not have hit as many layups in its pregame drills.
And the afternoon’s final numbers only got worse: At game’s end, Pitt had outscored CU 44-14 in the paint and had converted the Buffs’ 17 turnovers into 24 points.
“We were just trying to set a tone,” said Pitt post Talib Zanna of his team’s early disruptive defense. “The energy, you can tell the energy was there and the focus. The first five minutes we played really good defense, and from there we just tried to get a lot of stops and just run the floor, and we had wide‑open lay‑ups.”
The 6-9, 230-pound Zanna was nothing short of a Nigerian nightmare for the Buffs, accounting for 16 first-half points on 6-of-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. His longest field goal was a 10-foot baseline jumper; otherwise, he was hitting either layups or put-backs and CU’s post defense never found an antidote.
Zanna finished with a game-best 18 points, while Josh Scott led CU with 14. Guards Cameron Wright (11) and Lamar Patterson (10) joined Zanna in double figures. The only other CU player reaching double figures was Xavier Johnson (11). Pitt checked out at 51 percent from the field (31-of-61), CU at 36 percent (15-of-42).
No Buffs player had more than 5 first-half points, and none had an assist – which paled alongside Pitt’s 13. Said Boyle: “I think Pittsburgh is a great passing team. They really move the ball. They come off those ball screens and they make the right decision and they get the ball moved side to side. They get you in rotations.”
CU managed five second-half assists – the same as Pitt – but a final 18-5 discrepancy in assists said as much as anything about the Buffs’ forlorn afternoon.
“You look at our defense, you look at our rebounding, we’re down 15‑8 at halftime on the boards,” Boyle said. “They’re shooting 62 percent and we’ve got zero assists and 10 turnovers. It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to take care of the ball better and we’ve got to guard better and we’ve got to rebound better. We didn’t do any of those things today. I don’t know what Colorado team it was.”
The Panthers held the Buffs scoreless for the first 5:41 and led 13-0 before forward Wes Gordon, watching the shot clock run toward 0:00, hit his fourth 3-pointer of the season. It was a typical CU first-half possession, the best shot CU could get against a Pitt defense that reduced the Buffs’ trips inside to nearly nothing, almost immediately double-teamed Scott and made CU look lost on the perimeter.
“It’s something I’ve had to work on all year, and they were a good defensive team and they rotated out of it,” Scott said. “They covered a lot of space, so credit to them.”
The physical encounter that had been forecast never materialized – at least not for the Buffs. The Panthers, playing their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference after a long Big East membership, controlled most “50/50” balls and outrebounded the Buffs 33-29 for the game.
Johnson contended Pitt’s physicality didn’t surprise him or his teammates: “No, not at all. We’ve played against some physical teams and I’m a physical player, so I enjoy that.”
Arizona, Johnson said, “is the most physical team I’ve played all year. (Pitt) is big and they’re strong, but no more physical than Arizona.”
The Panthers led by as many 32 points in the second half. With 2:27 to play, Boyle gave his only two seniors – Beau Gamble and Ben Mills – and seldom-used reserve Kevin Nelson their chances for an NCAA Tournament appearance. Gamble hit a 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer for the final points of his CU career.
Despite the season’s unsightly end, Boyle said the “future is bright for our program . . . our program is on the assent, it’s not on the descent. We lose two seniors who weren’t in the rotation, terrific young men. But if this can’t motivate our guys going into the off season, for getting in the weight room, working on their game, whether it’s passing, whether it’s dribbling, whether it’s shooting the ball, whether it’s defense, rebounding, toughness, if this can’t motivate them, I don’t know what does.
“But I think it will. I know it will me to become a better coach. I’ve got to help them more offensively so we don’t have five assists and 17 turnovers . . . we’ve shown the defensive aptitude in the past. We didn’t have it (Thursday) for whatever reason.”
Boyle, his staff and their returning players now have a long time to try and figure it out.
By B.G. Brooks, CUBuffs.com Contributing Editor
BOULDER – History was made Sunday at 4:02 p.m. MDT, and it was made faster than you could blurt March Madness.
Two minutes into CBS’ Selection Sunday telecast, the University of Colorado men’s basketball team was announced as an at-large entry in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, marking an historic third consecutive time the Buffaloes have qualified for the Big Dance. Two other CU men’s teams had reached the tournament in consecutive seasons (1954-55, 1962-63).
But Tad Boyle’s fourth CU team made it three NCAAs in a row – and these Buffs did it the hard way, overcoming the loss of point guard and team leader Spencer Dinwiddie in mid-January.
On Sunday afternoon at Boyle’s spacious Boulder home, there was no prolonged suspense, no gut-wrenching wait, to see who the Buffs would be playing and where. Mere seconds after top-ranked Florida was announced as the tournament’s No. 1 seed and would stay in the South Region, “Colorado” popped up on the flat screen in Boyle’s den and his players whooped, whistled and breathed collective sighs of relief not issued into well into previous selection shows.
Seeded No. 8 in the South, CU plays No. 9 Pittsburgh on Thursday (time TBD) in Orlando, Fla. The CU-Pitt winner catches Florida in the next round in what is tantamount to a home game for the talented Gators.
“Since I’ve been here it’s always been drawn out a little bit, whether it be 30 minutes or 40 minutes, whatever the case,” junior guard Askia Booker said of CU’s NCAA destiny being determined so quickly. “It’s kind of a relief to hear your name called in the first 60 seconds almost . . . you’re playing a great team to begin with and if you’re fortunate enough to win you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country. Yeah, it’s a relief but then you get back on your toes and prepare.”
“You never know,” Boyle said of Sunday’s sudden selection. “What we’ve been through the last couple of years . . . you go back three years ago – we never saw that one coming (with CU’s exclusion). Then the next year we know we’re in (after winning the Pac-12 tournament), then last year was a little stressful. I think we were in the fourth segment of the show – and there were four segments. It got a little stressful last year. But to have it pop up right away . . . yeah, it was a relief.”
“Last year it was a long process,” added sophomore forward Xavier Johnson. “We were here for a while and got tired. But I was glad to see it went quickly and that we got what we deserved – an eight seed, which is pretty good.”
And pretty surprising to some; some bracketologists figured CU (23-11) for a ninth or tenth seed. The eighth seed is a tip of the hat by the NCAA Selection Committee, but it also positions a team in one of the tournament’s more challenging first-round games. And CU’s position is just that – challenging.
“Traditionally, the eight-nine (seed) games are always really hard ones because there’s so much parity in the tournament and you’re matched up against somebody much like yourself,” Boyle said. “Then if you are fortunate enough to advance, you get a one seed to look forward to. But in tournament basketball you don’t look ahead, you look at the task at hand.”
Boyle’s long-term objective is to make the suspense of Selection Sundays whether the Buffs will be awarded a top five seed – not whether they will get in the tournament. “Eventually want to get to a point in the program where we’re fighting for those one, two and three seeds . . . we’re not quite there yet, but we will be,” he said. “Right now, especially with what this group has been through this year, to get into the tournament is a good thing. I know the young men who are still playing and competed in Vegas believe they can compete with anybody on any given night. But we’ve got to play well.”
Many first- or second-time NCAA entries suffer from the “just-glad-to-be-there” mindset and are sent packing after the first round. Many in the national hoops community – even some in the local community – counted CU among the dead teams walking when Dinwiddie went down. Instead, after an adjustment period, the Buffs rallied and went 9-9 (counting the Washington game in which he was injured).
Boyle said merely reaching a third-consecutive NCAA Tournament after that coping with adversity would not put the Buffs among the “just-glad-to-be-there” crowd. “I’m not worried about that at all because I know how competitive our guys are,” he said. “Also, they’re smart guys and they know the next loss we have is the end of our season . . . it’s not going to be one of these deals where we’re just happy to be there and (go) one-and-out. If we’re one-and-out we’ll be disappointed. It’s not going to sit well with me or anybody. The next step for this program is to not only get in the tournament but to advance in the tournament.”
Going to the NCAA’s far reaches (for a Rocky Mountain school, at least) to play is fine with the Buffaloes. Boyle wanted to avoid Buffalo, N.Y., simply because he preferred the prospect of warmer weather. “Nothing against Buffalo (but) the sun’s coming out here in Colorado, spring is in the air,” he said. “Our guys are getting ready – as a lot of schools are – for spring break. You wanted to go someplace where it was nice and warm. But at the end of the day, if we went to Buffalo, I’d be just as happy. So Orlando is as good as any.”
And obviously better than some – even if Gator fans can get there on half a tank of gas and turn the Amway Center into Chomp City. For Booker, staying west of the Mississippi River for a first-round game was never a real wish or a consideration.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “I mean, you put me on the floor with the basketball and two rims and that’s all that matters to me, man. You just have to prepare, and if you’re prepared you can go anywhere and play.”
On Sunday afternoon, the Buffs weren’t as well-versed on the Panthers as they will be come Thursday. Booker had some knowledge of Pitt’s guards – “They’re very, very talented – similar to us” – and the Panthers’ overall physicality. And Boyle cited Jamie Dixon as “a heck of a coach . . . their defensive principles are a lot like ours. They were in the Big East and kind of a smash-mouth team. But I don’t know much about personnel and what they do offensively – but we’ll find out a lot in a short period of time.”
A short course on Pitt: Joining the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, the Panthers finished 11-7 in the league and 25-9 overall. They were the fifth seed – same as CU in the Pac-12 Tournament – in the ACC Tournament and reached the semifinals, where they were eliminated by eventual champ and No. 1 seed Virginia, 51-48. Pitt beat No. 15 North Carolina 80-75 in the ACC quarterfinals. The Panthers have been in the NCAA Tournament for 12 of the past 13 seasons, and Dixon has been Pitts’ coach for 11 seasons (15 in the program). His overall record: 287-95. The Panthers’ top scorer is 6-5 senior forward Lamar Patterson (17.6 ppg), the leading rebounder is 6-9 senior center Talib Zanna (8.3 rpg).
After his team was eliminated from the ACC Tournament by Virginia, which received one of Sunday’s four top seeds (Florida, Wichita State and Arizona were the other three), Dixon said he was “proud of how our guys played. We got better this week. We’re healthy and playing our best basketball.”
Boyle had a similar view of the Buffs after the Pac-12 Tournament, which saw them advance to the semifinals with wins over USC and Cal before being eliminated by Arizona. “This team over the last couple or three weeks has really turned the corner defensively with our commitment and energy level,” he said.
“But in the NCAA Tournament, you’re going to have to make some shots, you’re going to have to play with some efficiency on offense and that’s what we’re going to have to do to advance in this thing. Whether it’s against Pittsburgh or whoever we would play next if we were fortunate enough to do that. Then, you’ve got to get a little lucky.
“There’s going to be a lot of close games . . . that’s why they call it March Madness. On those first two days especially a lot of things can happen; there’s so many games and everybody is thinking the same thing – just survive and advance and live to see another day. Pittsburgh is thinking the same thing we are. So is Florida.”
On Sunday afternoon, shortly after Florida was awarded the overall No. 1 seed, Booker reacted to that news by crowing “Colorado” in a long-distance answer to one of the CBS commentators’ remarks of who might be in line to play the Gators. Maybe ‘Ski’ could see the future.
“I don’t care who we play,” Booker said. “If you heard me right when the show started, I wanted to play Florida . . . regardless, I want to play the No. 1 team – the best of the best. That’s how you really test who you are; when everything hits the fan that shows who nuts up and who’s willing to play and who’s willing to compete. I think Pittsburgh is a great team and we can’t overlook them because they’re a very talented team and it’s going to be a rough game.”
March Madness’ first rule is to overlook no one, regardless of who might be next. So the Buffaloes are Dancing for a third straight year – an historic accomplishment. But as Boyle said Sunday and undoubtedly will again, while making the field is good, staying awhile is infinitely better.
LAS VEGAS – The Colorado Buffaloes got the first-half start they wanted Friday night against Arizona, but the start of the second was another story – one of shock and maybe a little bit of awe.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats, the top seed in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, held the fifth-seeded Buffs to only two field goals in the second half’s first 12:32, coupled that shutdown with a 20-4 run, and raced away with a 63-43 semifinal win at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“In the second half, that thing got away from us quick,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “If Arizona makes shots and with the way they guard consistently, they’ve got a chance to win a national championship.”
Arizona (30-3) plays the winner of Friday night’s second semifinal – UCLA vs. Stanford – on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. MDT) in the Pac-12 championship game. CU (23-11) awaits word on Selection Sunday to make potential NCAA Tournament plans.
“We’re obviously disappointed in the result, but we lost to a darn good Arizona team,” Boyle said. “That’s a hell of a team, a hell of a program. They’ve had an unbelievable year.”
His defense was pit-bull nasty to the Buffs, but Arizona coach Sean Miller returned Boyle’s kind words, complimenting Boyle and his staff on rejuvenating the Buffs after losing point guard Spencer Dinwiddie in mid-January.
Miller said outsiders can’t comprehend the magnitude of such a loss and what it takes to adjust: “I mean it knocks you back. You can’t call timeout, have a month to prepare and think about things. You have to get it right away.
“What Tad and his staff have done and what those players have done has been really nothing short of remarkable. The fact they’re sitting in the NCAA Tournament, our hat’s off to them and we wish them nothing but the best.”
The Buffs could have used some of the post-game goodwill from the Wildcats’ defense in the second half. Ahead only 27-24 at halftime, Arizona allowed a Josh Scott layup at the 18:32 mark, but didn’t permit another CU field goal for almost 5 minutes.
Nearly another 6 minutes passed before the Buffs got their third basket of the second half, and by then the Wildcats had rolled to a 51-32 advantage. The Buffs were on their way to a night of near-record lows:
· Their 43 points were the lowest since scoring 49 against Illinois (57) in the 2013 NCAA Tournament;
· Their 29 percent field goal shooting was the lowest since Arizona held CU to 32.7 on Feb. 22 in Boulder;
· Their 25 rebounds – the Wildcats hauled down 41 – were a season low, as were their 15 field goals.
“We knew they were good defensively,” said Boyle, “and we knew we were going to have to make some shots to beat them. We couldn’t get going. Their defense had something to do with that, our offense had something to do with that. You put those two things together . . .
“Listen, they’re a great defensive team, not a good defensive team, a great defensive team. They’ve shown it game after game all season long.”
When they’re dialed in, the Wildcats aren’t mediocre on offense either. Nick Johnson, the Pac-12’s player of the year, led Arizona with 16 points, getting help from guard P.J. McConnell and 6-7 freshman wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with 12 each. All of Hollis-Jefferson’s points came in the second half – and half of them during that explosive stretch when Arizona outscored CU 20-4 to take its 51-32 lead.
Askia Booker (12 points) and Xavier Johnson (11) were the only CU players in double figures. Booker said the Buffs “were right there with them in the first half. It just takes that two to five minutes for them to open up the game – and that’s exactly what they did. Their offensive rebounding was very aggressive, they were knocking down some jump shots. They’re very good.”
The Wildcats’ defense in the class of the Pac-12, said Booker, because “they guard the ball very well. They’re always in gap help. There’s a lot of times I get by a guy and another guy is right there. If I kick it out they’re contesting the shot – and it’s always a great contest. You have to be very efficient and knock down shots to beat this team. If you don’t do that, it’s going to be tough for you, especially if you don’t get stops. And they rebound the ball very well.”
“They’re so physical,” added guard Xavier Talton, who hit a pair of 3-pointers (8 points total) and finished with five treys in the last two games here. “I think their gap help and their guards really guard the ball. That’s a big thing . . . the way Sean Miller recruits, he recruits athletes. Them staying in front of us is a big part of keeping us out of the paint – which is want to do. That’s a big testament to them.”
Among the Buffs’ chief goals was to prevent a devastating early Wildcats run that essentially buried CU in Arizona’s two regular-season wins. The Buffs fell behind 18-4 in their 69-57 loss in Tucson and 22-5 in their 88-61 loss in Boulder.
There was no such surge on Friday night – at least not in the first half after the Buffs managed to stay close (27-24) at intermission. A trey by Gabe York a second before the halftime buzzer gave Arizona its three-point lead.
The Wildcats had gone up 22-13 with 6:08 left in the half, but the Buffs stayed strong. Over the half’s last 6 minutes, CU outscored Arizona 11-4, and Arizona’s 27 points were the third fewest by the Wildcats this season.
CU needed an efficient second-half start, but Arizona wouldn’t allow it. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were getting revved up, quickly scoring outside on baskets by McConnell and a 3-pointer by Johnson, and inside on a Johnson tip-in and another by Hollis-Jefferson.
When Booker finally got CU’s third basket of the half, putting back his own miss and hitting an “and-one,” the Buffs closed to within 38-32 with 13:55 remaining. Still, the game seemed on the verge of slipping away, and the inside work of Hollis-Jefferson provided a significant shove. After hitting a pair of free throws, he scored on another tip-in then powered for a layup to give the Wildcats their biggest lead – 44-32 – with 10:15 to play.
Boyle called a timeout, but the Buffs came out of it with a missed layup by Booker. Trouble – and a 7-0 Wildcats run – were coming: McConnell hit a trey, Gordon scored on a put-back and Jordin Mayes added a lay-up.
Suddenly, the Buffs were down by 19 – 51-32 – and the Garden Arena reverberated with “U of A, U of A” chants. The Wildcats extended their lead to as many as 22 points in the final 5 minutes and the Buffs were left to wait on Sunday and the NCAA Selection Committee.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Boyle said. “We’ve got a lot of fight, a lot of heart. We’ve gotten better over the last three weeks of the season, but it was a disappointing end. But our season’s not over – that’s the good news.”
By B.G. Brooks, CUBuffs.com Contributing Editor
LAS VEGAS – If you’re thinking the Colorado Buffaloes are stuck on 59, you might be onto something. But here in Sin City, where gambling is the big engine that could, that’s a long way from crapping out.
It’s a magnificent number, a winning number, for Tad Boyle and his revitalized crew.
The Buffs’ last three wins – against Stanford in the next-to-last regular-season game, against USC in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, against California in the quarterfinals – have been by the same score: 59-56.
The Buffs’ two wins here have ended in identical, nail-biting, fist-gnawing fashion: CU is up by three in the closing seconds and survives a 3-pointer to tie at the buzzer.
In racehorse college basketball, 59 points are not a lot. Boyle’s guys love to run and score, but that’s not how this team – this season – has evolved after Spencer Dinwiddie’s knee injury in mid-January. In their last seven games, the Buffs haven’t hit 70 points, with 65 in a one-point overtime loss at Cal the high mark.
That’s the longest low-scoring stretch in Boyle’s about-to-be-completed four seasons in Boulder. But here’s the more telling bottom line number: Boyle’s fourth CU team has won 23 games (10 losses), making this season the second-most productive in terms of wins in school history. (His first two Buffs teams finished with 24 wins.)
And turning to something more topical since it’s the month of madness, those 23 wins should remove any mystery – if there was any – that might have shrouded CU’s inclusion in the NCAA Tournament field. Selection Sunday looms for the official word, but the word will be good. Book it.
But Friday finds the Buffs with things other than the NCAA Tournament on their minds. They have a semifinal date at 7:06 p.m. MDT with top-seeded and fourth-ranked Arizona in the MGM Garden Arena. Upsetting the Wildcats, then winning the Pac-12 championship on Saturday would remove all Selection Sunday mystery about the Buffs’ NCAA future; the tournament champ is in automatically.
Accomplishing that begins with beating powerful Arizona, whose players defend like they were guarding loved ones from a home invasion.
“They took a lot of pride in guarding us . . . we got punched in the mouth by a really good basketball team and we saw Arizona, I think, at their finest,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said Thursday after Arizona had clamped down on his team in a 71-39 quarterfinal win. The halftime score: 34-13. Utah’s Big Three – Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Delon Wright – were a combined 1-of-16 from the field.
The Buffs know something about the Wildcats’ defense from their regular-season meetings. Arizona won 69-57 in Tucson, 88-61 in Boulder. The Wildcats give up points as willingly as the IRS gives away cash; they lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 58.7 points a game.
That’s very close to CU’s magic number of late – 59 . . . Hmmmmm.
“They’re the best defensive team in our league,” Boyle said. “It’s not even close. They’re the best rebounding team in our league. It is close there.”
That’s because CU is at 37.9 boards a game, while Arizona is at 38.9.
In their two wins over the Buffs this season, the Wildcats leaped to large early leads – as they did against the Utes Thursday. CU fell behind 18-4 in Tucson and 22-5 in Boulder in what would end in the Buffs’ worst home loss of the Boyle era.
Whether it makes a difference or not Friday, this is a different CU team, a more focused team. Eli Stalzer, who stepped to the foul line Thursday in the final 6 six seconds and hit one of two critical free throws, said the Buffs have learned something about themselves and the high energy Boyle wants from them since a March 1 loss (75-64) at Utah.
“Now it seems like guys don’t think they can take plays off; every possession is important,” Stalzer said. “We’re all working hard to do our best.”
That’s partially attributable to the transformation of junior guard Askia Booker, who has averaged 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3 assists. He’s shooting 46.7 percent from the field (21-of-45). In the two Pac-12 Tournament games, he has averaged 19 points a game, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’s hit 50 percent from the field (16-of-32).
Maybe more important than the numbers, Booker’s composure has stood out. He’s become CU’s glue, if you will, which at one point in his career might have seemed improbable if not impossible.
Boyle said, as a coach, “you hope” a player develops like Booker has: “He’s had an interesting career; he’s grown up exponentially – especially since Spencer went down. He was thrown in the fire of a leadership role . . . he’s done a great job. And that’s what’s so gratifying about doing this job. You see young men come in, where they are as freshman not just physically and skill-wise but emotionally, spiritually and maturity-wise. He’s come a long way.”
So have the Buffs. Boyle’s second CU team (2011-12) won the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament in Los Angeles with a four-day, four-game run as a No. 6 seed. His fourth team, as a No. 5 seed, is within two wins of a repeat. Boyle doesn’t have near the veteran leadership on this team that was apparent in L.A., but he’s seen a similar trait develop over the last several weeks. That would ownership.
“You look at that team with Nate (Tomlinson), Carlin (Brown) and Austin (Dufault) – they took ownership down the stretch and made it happen,” he said. “Now, we had to win some close games there . . . but now we have to play one of the best teams in the country in the semis and we didn’t have to do that two years ago.”
I asked Boyle if his players would have any difficulty in blotting out those two regular-season losses to the Wildcats, particularly the one in Boulder that concluded ESPN’s College GameDay visit.
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Boyle answered. “That’s a distant memory. It’s a new day, a new opportunity. The way our guys are playing right now and feeling about themselves, they want that opportunity, they relish it. We’re not going to play with a lack of confidence (Friday).”
by B.G. Brooks, CUBuffs.com
LAS VEGAS – In March, basketball teams can live on their game’s intangibles and die without them. On an afternoon when their leading scorer’s frustration nearly overshadowed his productivity and little else went smoothly, the Colorado Buffaloes turned to those intangibles to survive – and they did.
No. 5 seed CU used an 8-0 run late in the second half to pull away from No. 12 seed Southern California, then held on loosely to eliminate the Trojans 59-56 in Wednesday’s first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
A relieved CU coach Tad Boyle called it an exercise in winning ugly – but in March ugly still counts. The Buffs (22-10) advance to play No. 4 seed California (19-12) in Thursday’s quarterfinal round (3:30 p.m. MDT) in the MGM Garden Arena. In their only meeting this season, Cal defeated CU by one point in overtime last weekend in Berkeley.
CU’s 22nd win of the season ties for the fourth-most wins in school history, with Boyle owning three of the top four winningest seasons.
Reaching the quarterfinals was more difficult than many imagined for CU. USC, losers of 11 of its final 12 regular-season games, took a five-point lead with 9:46 remaining Wednesday and appeared ready to close out the erratic Buffs, who had swept the Trojans (11-21) in their two previous meetings.
But CU dialed up one of the intangibles – mental toughness – that finally surfaced late in the regular season and nearly carried the Buffs to a sweep of their Bay Area road trip. It arrived when needed in Vegas, and it came in the form of chasing down long rebounds, loose balls and protecting the ball over the game’s final 10 minutes. The Buffs committed nine of their 13 turnovers in the first half, the other four in the opening minutes of the second half.
“When you don’t play your best and you’re off your game with multiple guys on multiple levels and you figure out a way to win, that’s a testament to your mental toughness,” Boyle said. “When it’s a game that shots aren’t going in and you’re struggling offensively and the whistle is not going your way on either side, that’s where mental toughness really has to take over. That’s where I think our team over the last two weeks has made tremendous strides.”
Down 47-42 with just under 10 minutes to play, maybe CU’s – and junior guard Askia Booker’s – alarm buttons were hit. Booker converted a three-point play, followed with a 15-foot jumper, then fed Xavier Johnson for a stuff that tied the score at 49-49 with 8:01 left.
“Around the first media timeout in the second half, I told myself that it’s either now or never,” Booker said. “I talked to coach (Jean) Prioleau and he said, ‘It’s time.’ That’s when I told myself, let’s get going.
Booker led the Buffs with 21 points – his fifth 20-point game of the season and seventh of his career. He also contributed seven rebounds and four assists against only one turnover. Boyle said Booker “made some big-time plays, but he played with great composure. We’re going to need him to do that because he’s important to our team, as all our guys are.”
One of Booker’s most significant plays belonged in the intangible column. Going out of bounds to retrieve a long rebound off a teammate’s missed shot, Booker leaped and slammed the ball off a Trojans player’s leg with 10.2 seconds left to give the Buffs another possession.
“They got a loose ball that was going out of bounds and threw it off our legs. They got the ball back,” first-year USC coach Andy Enfield said.
When Booker has reached 20-plus points this season, the Buffs are 4-1. He’s been at his best against USC, averaging 20.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists in three wins against the Trojans this season. The Buffs won 83-62 in Boulder, 83-74 in Los Angeles and now lead the series 7-3, including 5-0 since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
Sophomore post Josh Scott, frustrated and held to one first-half point largely by USC’s large (7-0, 270) Egyptian center, Omar Oraby, keyed CU’s decisive 8-0 run with three consecutive baskets inside to break a 50-50 tie and give the Buffs a 56-50 advantage with 4:10 to play.
When Booker added a layup in transition, the Buffs had their largest lead of the afternoon – 58-50 – and the Trojans were in desperation mode. As it had all game, USC turned to Byron Wesley (23 points) for five of its last seven points and a potential game-tying 3-pointer that clanged off the left side of the rim at the buzzer.
Scott, who attempted only three first-half shots and made one of two free throws, scored 12 second-half points and collected a game-high nine rebounds – a respectable ending to a frustrating afternoon for CU’s leading scorer (14.5 ppg).
“It was frustrating,” Scott said. “I think that was pretty obvious I was pretty frustrated. But I thank my teammates a lot for having confidence in me to keep getting me the ball there at the end. It tells me that they still have confidence even when I might not have the most confidence in myself at the time.”
Boyle called the 6-10 Scott “the ultimate battler . . . that’s what he does. He battles every day on every possession offense and defense. People have no idea how big and how strong Oraby is . . . I didn’t want to play Josh as many minutes (33) as I did. I hoped I wouldn’t have to, but you’ve got to survive and advance.”
Scott finished 4-of-14 from the field, but frontcourt mates Wesley Gordon and Johnson had his back – each hitting four of their six field goal attempts. Johnson scored eight of his 11 points in the first half, when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers on his only two attempts to give CU its largest first-half lead – 10-4. But the Buffs led by only two – 29-27 – at intermission. The 6-9 Gordon finished the afternoon with eight points, six rebounds, one blocked shot, one assist and one steal.
Gordon called the Trojans “a different team than the Southern California team that we’ve played before. They came out with a lot of energy and they were very physical with us. They played really, really well.”
The Buffs outrebounded the Trojans 38-27, out-pointed them in the paint 34-30 and had 10 fast break points to USC’s two. The Trojans’ bench outscored the Buffs’ 9-2, with Dustin Thomas scoring CU’s only points off the bench. One of the reserves Boyle used was freshman Tre’Shaun Fletcher, who suffered a knee injury on Jan. 12 at Washington and had not played until Wednesday. Fletcher played 3 minutes and missed his only field goal attempt.
CU hit just nine of its 16 free throw attempts, with its 56.3 percentage the second lowest of the season. USC attempted 22 3-pointers, making just five. “It’s been a weakness of ours all year,” Enfield said. “We need to get some guys to make shots.”
Overnight Wednesday and on Thursday morning, CU turns its focus toward Cal. The Buffs like the short time – five days – between games; the memory of the OT loss remains fresh.
“We lose to them, like, just a couple of days ago and we get another crack at them. You can’t ask for more,” said Scott, adding that the intangibles the Buffs latched onto in Vegas eluded them in Berkeley. “They got a couple of loose balls, long rebounds that we had to get to win the game. We didn’t, so that hurt our chances.”
But, added Booker, “I think we can compete with them – with anybody in the Pac-12 really. But (Thursday) is the day to come out and prove it.”
STANFORD, Calif. – After back-to-back losses, the Colorado men’s basketball team got the win it desperately needed, holding on to defeat Stanford 59-56 Wednesday night in a game that likely will prove to be critical as March Madness looms.
Colorado (21-9, 10-7 Pac-12) withstood a Stanford comeback at Maples Pavilion and made free throws down the stretch to pick up its 21st regular season victory, matching the 1996-97 team for the best in school history.
“Getting a victory like this on the road is huge for our team,” CU coach Tad Boyle said on KOA Radio 850. “This team has an opportunity to set itself apart from any other team in the University of Colorado basketball history.”
Securing the win, Boyle continued, “wasn’t easy. Our defense played good enough to keep us in the game until our offense got back going.”
Leading 46-38 after a jumper by Askia Booker with 14:15 to play, the Buffaloes watched the Cardinal (18-11, 9-8) come back to tie the game at 46-46. CU didn’t score again until Xavier Johnson’s jump shot with 5:59 remaining produced a 48-46 lead.
A 13-2 run briefly gave Stanford a late lead, but CU refused to wilt. Although still trailing the Cardinal 9-6 in the series, the Buffaloes lead 3-2 in Pac-12 play with three consecutive wins. It is the longest winning streak in the series dating to 1932.
“This was a big win for us,” said Johnson, one of two Buffs in double figures with 14 points. “For us to go nine minutes without scoring and still come out with the victory means that we’ve made great progress as a team.”
Josh Scott led CU with 17 points and 11 rebounds, posting his 12th double-double of the season and the 14th of his career.
Chasson Randle dominated for Stanford, scoring a game-high 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the field, while teammate Josh Huestis added nine points.
Colorado had a comfortable eight point lead in the second half until Randle single-handedly brought the Cardinal back. In its 13-2 run, Randle accounted for 10 points, including a 7-0 run of his own. Thanks in part to his heroics, Stanford managed to recapture its first lead since the 11:29 mark in the first half.
But the Buffs refused to crumble, answering with a 7-0 run capped by a Xavier Talton 3-pointer to take a 55-51 lead. However, Randle answered again with a conventional three-point play to bring Stanford within one (55-54) with 1:17 remaining.
With 45 seconds left, Colorado committed a shot-clock violation, giving Stanford possession. The Cardinal again looked to Randle for the lead but Askia Booker stripped him of the ball and then connected on 1-of-2 free throws after being fouled.
After a Stanford 3-point attempt rimmed out, Scott came away with the rebound, then gave the Buffs a four-point lead by hitting two free throws.
Talton was the last Buff to go to the free throw line, making one of two and putting CU up 59-56. Randle had one last chance to be Stanford’s hero, but his final trey attempt was off the mark.
CU, which led 33-28 at halftime, got some first-half production from Ben Mills and Eli Stalzer (seven points combined) to help the offense find its groove. The Buffs shot close to 50 percent from the field (11-of-24) while holding Stanford to merely 30 percent shooting (10-of-32) in the first 20 minutes.
Colorado benefited as forward Dwight Powell, Stanford’s second- leading scorer (14.6 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg), limited himself by picking up three personal fouls in the first half and then committing his fourth personal with 11:54 remaining in the game.
Powell would foul out with 2 minutes remaining in the contest, finishing with just eight points and two rebounds in 28 minutes.
Under Boyle, Colorado is now 39-2 when out-rebounding and holding its opponent to under 40 percent from the field. The Buffaloes edged Stanford 39-31 on the boards and held the Cardinal to 36 percent (21-of-57) on its field goal attempts.
Colorado concludes the regular season and its Bay-Area road trip with a game at California on Saturday (4:30 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network). The Pac-12 Tournament begins on March 12 in Las Vegas.
Buffs Falter In 75-64 Pac-12 Loss
by B.G. Brooks
SALT LAKE CITY – For the Colorado men’s basketball team, the start of second halves has become the beginning of the end. The Buffaloes’ all-too-familiar script for failure played out again Saturday in a 75-64 Pac-12 Conference loss to Utah.
After a 30-30 halftime tie, the Utes outscored the Buffs 15-2 to open the second half and take a 45-32 lead. But that was a mere continuation of the last stages of the first 20 minutes. Over those final 4-plus minutes and the first 7-plus of the second half, Utah outscored its visitors from the other side of the Rockies 23-2.
And Senior Day at the Jon M. Huntsman Center was all but a wrap.
“Right now second halves are baffling when it comes to the Buffs,” coach Tad Boyle said. “This is three out of the last four games when you go back to UCLA . . . same way. They just had their way with us offensively in the second half – Arizona and now Utah. It happens once you think, OK, maybe somebody got hot, it’s an aberration. But it’s not . . . we’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror and understand that right now we’re not good enough in the second half defensively.”
In an 88-61 home loss to No. 4 Arizona last weekend, the Buffs allowed the Wildcats to shoot 84.9 percent from the field in the second half. Saturday, the Utes made 70.8 percent of their second-half field goal attempts. Utah also outrebounded CU by three after losing the board battle by 18 in Boulder in the Buffs’ 79-75 overtime win.
Boyle called that a “big swing,” but pointed to porous defense as a culprit for even the slightest board advantage. “There’s not a lot of rebounds to be had,” he said. “That’s why it gets down to defense. When you’re taking the ball out of the next 70 or 85 percent of the time – holy cow, you better be making a lot of shots. I don’t think there’s an offense out there in college basketball to overcome those numbers.”
The Buffs (20-9, 9-7) closed to within nine points twice in the final 10 minutes Saturday but came no closer as the Utes (19-9, 8-8) improved to 18-2 at home this season. The Utes have now won 21 of 24 at the Huntsman Center dating to last season.
Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright led Utah with 21 points each, while CU had two players in double figures – Josh Scott with 17 and Xavier Johnson with 10. Askia Booker finished with four points, a pair of first-half free throws and one field goal in the second half.
Freshman Dustin Thomas, who went scoreless in the teams’ first meeting last month in Boulder, hit a 3-pointer to open Saturday’s scoring and got CU’s first seven points as the Buffs took a 7-2 lead.
“I came out with confidence. I knew we had to jump on them early and I wanted to do what I could do for the team,” Thomas said.
CU led by as many as eight (30-22) before an 8-0 Utah run – courtesy of treys by Loveridge and Brandon Taylor – produced a 30-30 halftime tie. The Utes never led in the first half, and it was the first time this season the Buffs have been tied at intermission.
Then came another second-half swoon . . .
“We turned the ball over and we didn’t get stops. Those two things combined hurt; that’s the key to the second half,” Scott said, referring to CU’s five first-half turnovers and 11 in the second half. Utah converted those 16 miscues into 19 points.
Thomas said the Utes “just came out real aggressive” in the second half. “We didn’t come out and match their aggressiveness. We have to do that to every opponent we face; if we do that we’ll be all right. When we’re down we have to come together on the court instead of looking at each other.”
Another second-half failure, said Boyle, was not running the offense through Scott. Boyle said the Buffs might be understanding they have to play through Scott, not meaning that the 6-10 post must score on every possession, “But we have to play inside-out. When we do we’re pretty good. But the offensive struggles bleeding over into the defensive part of the floor has got to stop. We’re just not good enough defensively, though.”
CU finished the afternoon shooting 21-of-53 (39.6 percent) while Utah shot 59.6 percent from the field (28-of-47) – including the blistering 70.8 percent (17-of-24) in the final 20 minutes.
Among CU’s biggest first-half difficulties was finishing at the rim. The Buffs missed half a dozen point-blank attempts, enabling Utah to hold a 16-10 advantage in paint points and finish with a 38-22 advantage.
Booker finished the first half with only a pair of free throws and two fouls that sent him to the bench at the 7:12 mark. Also encountering first-half foul problems were Thomas and Johnson, who finished the game with four each.
Thomas said the early fouls on him, Booker and Johnson “hurt us a lot. We got up early in the first half and those fouls hurt. But we have to play through that.”
But with the score tied at 30 at intermission, the second 20 minutes (and the win) were there for the taking – and the Utes quickly took advantage. They scored the second half’s first nine points for a 39-30 lead. CU took a timeout to regroup with 17:26 to play, but promptly turned it over and Wright converted a traditional three-point play for the nine-point lead.
Scott called the turnovers “something we’ve talked about a lot. It’s inexcusable. We have to go back to the drawing board.” He also said Wright, the Pac-12 leader in steals, “got us a couple of times and made some easy baskets. I thought that was a key.”
CU finally got its first second-half points on a left-handed Scott hook with 16:20 left. But by then the Utes were up 39-32 and about to pull away for good.
Utah pushed its advantage to 45-32 on a straightaway 3-pointer by Loveridge with 13:52 to play and extended its lead to as many as 17 twice in the final 5 minutes.
Boyle said a lack of mental toughness continues to degrade the Buffs’ effort and that a glance at “every league in America” will show the top teams as the top defensive teams – and that’s where the Buffs are falling short.
“Our mental toughness – when things don’t go well for us on offense . . . it has to get better,” he said, adding a few corrections have to be made “to get it right. We don’t have to change the makeup . . . we’re not playing consistently enough and mentally tough enough.”
CU finishes out the regular season with road games next week at Stanford (Wednesday) and California (Saturday). The Pac-12 Tournament is March 12-15 in Las Vegas.
Coach Boyle: “We deserved what we got.”
BOULDER – Arizona started fast and finished faster Saturday night at the Coors Events Center, spoiling Colorado’s Senior Night and a day of ESPN College GameDay hoopla with an 88-61 romp past the Buffaloes.
It was CU’s worst home loss of the four-year Tad Boyle era, surpassing a 74-50 defeat by Stanford in 2012, and only the second Buffs loss in 18 games this season at the CEC.
It also was a night of firsts for the No. 4 Wildcats, who won for the first time in Boulder since 1973 and swept CU for the first time since the Buffs became members of the Pac-12 Conference in 2011. Arizona (25-2, 12-2) now is 3-0 in its last three meetings with CU (20-8, 9-6).
“It was a disappointing performance by our team and I have to look square in the mirror on that,” Boyle said. “As their coach, I didn’t do a very good job tonight.”
The Buffs go on the road for their final three regular-season games, traveling to Utah on Saturday, then wrapping up at Stanford (Wednesday, March 5) and California (Saturday, March 8). The Pac-12 Tournament is March 12-15 in Las Vegas, and Boyle might need that long to digest this weekend’s letdown.
After crediting Arizona for its performance, he reflected on the magnitude of the night and the depth of the disappointment. The Wildcats, he said, “whipped us in every which way you can whip a team . . . our fans were so ready for this game, this win; we gave them nothing. That’s a sick feeling to go home and live with. I don’t know what to say.
“I haven’t been embarrassed many times as a coach, but I was embarrassed by the way my team played . . . we have to own it and accept it. The pit in my stomach has more to do with our fans and seniors. They deserve more (but) we deserve what we got tonight.”
CU has but two seniors – center Ben Mills and guard Beau Gamble. Mills made his first career start, played 7 minutes total and closed out the Buffs’ scoring with the first trey of his career. Gamble made his first appearance of the night in the final 3 minutes, entering the game with the Wildcats leading 78-53.
After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half, CU cut Arizona’s lead to 31-26 at the half and to 37-33 early in the second half. But the talented Wildcats answered with a 14-6 run that put them ahead 51-39 and effectively put the game away with just over 12 minutes remaining..
Arizona came to Boulder as the Pac-12’s top defensive team, allowing just 57.6 points a game. But the Wildcats put on an offensive clinic in Saturday night’s second half, shooting an uncanny 84.6 percent (22-for-26) to end any thought of a Buffs comeback on an eagerly awaited day and night for them and their fans.
“Colorado’s a good team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We knew we weren’t going to run away with it that early, our offense really kicked into another gear in the second half.”
But, said Boyle, the Wildcats “were struggling to score coming in here.” And when the Buffs cut the deficit to four early in the second half, “You have to have a mindset to dig in and get stops. We didn’t do that.”
The Buffs also had their offensive problems, but the nasty Wildcats’ defense was to blame for many of those. “I can’t emphasize how good they are defensively; there are 11 other teams in the Pac-12 and then there’s Arizona,” Boyle said. “It’s not even close (on the defensive end). Our frustrations on offense led to a dunk-fest.”
Boyle said his team lacked patience offensively, pointing to a manageable nine turnovers as evidence that the Buffs rushed their shots: “We shot the ball so darn quick that we didn’t have a chance to turn it over. We took such bad shots and quickly, that it was like a turnover and they were able to get out in transition.”
Josh Scott (18 points) and Askia Booker (10) were the only two CU players in double figures while three Arizona players – led by freshman Aaron Gordon’s 23 – reached double digits. Nick Johnson added 20 and Kaleb Tarczewski had 13.
The Pac-12’s top defensive and rebounding team held CU to a season-low 32 percent shooting from the field (17-of-52) and out-boarded the Buffs 38-30. The Wildcats, meanwhile, finished at 60 percent from the field (35-of-58), including their incredible four-miss second half.
After falling behind 18-4 in their 69-57 loss at Arizona last month, the Buffs wanted no part of a sluggish beginning Saturday night. It happened anyway. There weren’t many ways the Buffs’ start could have been any worse.
Missing its first 15 field goal attempts and four of its first seven free throw attempts, CU fell behind 22-5 before freshman Jaron Hopkins hit a 3-pointer with 9:49 left before intermission for the Buffs’ first field goal. It was CU second-longest field goal drought of the season, following a 14:36 span last month in – where else? – Tucson.
But Hopkins’ trey from the left wing launched a 13-4 run that brought CU to within five points (26-21) with 4:39 left in the half. The Wildcats responded with four straight points and went ahead 30-21 before Booker got his first points of the night on a 12-foot jumper 2 seconds before the break.
That brought CU to within 31-25 – and given the way most of the half unfolded, a six-point deficit might have been a blessing.
Booker, who had averaged 19.6 points in his last five games, said the Buffs “got ourselves back into the game – we were down six at half, and that’s not a bad spot to be . . . but we just gave it away in the second half.”
Booker finished the half 1-for-8, Xavier Johnson 0-for-4. The Buffs’ 22.2 percent first-half shooting was their second worst of the season. For the night, Booker was 4-for-14 and Johnson 1-for-10 with five points.
“I think we got a little jump shot happy but I think that’s a credit to (Arizona),” Scott said. “I think we turned over the ball a couple times at some key points in the game and it’s mainly because they pack the paint, so that you’re pretty much there to take those shots. We should have attacked that more.”
Obviously needing a more efficient second-half start, the Buffs got it on a baseline jumper by Scott to pull to 31-27 – the closest they’d been since trailing 5-1. CU and Arizona traded baskets until Gordon hit back-to-back baskets – one a 3-pointer – to push the Wildcats ahead 42-33.
When Gordon hit his trey from the left corner, “I said here we go,” noted Boyle. “That’s not his game.”
But Arizona was about to find its trey touch – and more. Consecutive long balls by Johnson and Gabe York push the Wildcats back to a double-digit lead – 49-39 – then to 51-39 on a shorter Johnson jumper half a minute later. The Wildcats were 6-for-9 (66.7 percent) from beyond the arc in the second half and 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) for the game.
Getting stops was becoming a CU problem, and it was beginning to be compounded by the clock. If the Buffs had another rally in them, it needed to happen – and fast. It was nowhere to be found.
A 13-4 run, capped by a Tarczewski dunk, produced a 21-point Arizona lead (64-43) with 9:16 to play that went to 23 points (66-43) on a pair of Johnson free throws at the 7:50 mark. The Wildcats led by as many as 30 before the final buzzer, the Buffs never led.
Booker said the Buffs “didn’t have the most energy,” but didn’t blame that on any possible distraction from ESPN’s basketball GameDay crew being in Boulder for the first time.
“We’re used to all the cameras being here and all these people setting up their stuff,” he said. “It’s not like we’re doing interviews at half time or right before the game. We barely knew they were here, and yeah, we knew they were preparing but it has nothing to do once we step on the court and the ball goes up. It’s not an excuse.”