Brooks: It's A Short Drive, But Still A Road Trip
BOULDER - It's a driving trip that requires fewer than two hours, but it's still a trip - still a road game.
And the road, though not that long and winding in this case, presents challenges for the Colorado men's and women's basketball teams.
It also offers opportunities, and in this case they're grand ones - starting with the chance to defeat an in-state rival.
The CU men play at Colorado State on Thursday (7:30 p.m., The Mtn). A night later, the CU women visit CSU (7:05 p.m., no TV). See CUBuffs.com for game notes on each contest.
Coincidentally, the last time Jeff Bzdelik's men's team won a Division I road game was Dec. 22, 2007 at CSU (73-70). That's a 19-game road losing streak. Kathy McConnell-Miller's women's squad's most recent win on an opponent's home court was Jan. 24, 2009 at Missouri (61-56).
Observations from each Buffaloes coach and a pair of their freshmen on coping with the road, what it takes to win away from home, and the CU-CSU rivalry:
COPING WITH THE ROAD
Bzdelik: "I love playing on the road . . . nobody's ever come out of the stands to block a shot or grab a rebound. So I don't understand what the deal is. How do you win on the road? The same way you win at home: play harder than your opponent, play better and you get some timely stops and you make some timely shots . . . we just need to break through.
"We get to a point where we've got to finish. To me, it's never really about who we play, it's about how we play. We're just trying to get better every day with a very young team that's growing."
McConnell-Miller: "Preparation makes a good road team - not getting flustered whether you're up or down, handling the officiating, the calls. It's about us staying in a bubble - it's just us. Don't let external things affect you; that's when you stop becoming a good road team.
"The other thing on the road is leaving egos behind. At home, sometimes you've got friends and family in the stands. You get on the road and don't worry about who you're playing in front of - that's a common thing. Rely on each other.
"Some of our older players learned that losing on the road was something that happened quite a bit. Our young players . . . Chucky (Jeffery) and Meagan (Malcolm-Peck) don't expect to lose on the road. It's like high school - they go into another gym and they expect to dominate. They don't think about home or away."
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Chucky Jeffery, freshman, Colorado Springs: "It's like everyone's against you, so it gives you more motivation to come into somebody else's house, with all their fans there, and shut them down.
"In my head, my mentality is, we're going to go beat them on their home floor and come back home with a win . . . everything else is not a factor; we're just playing a game.
"I'm comfortable either way (home or road), as long as I know me and my team are prepared and ready. I feel like I can contribute the same as I would playing in our own gym."
Meagan Malcolm-Peck, freshman, Boulder: "In high school, we were always traveling. We traveled out of state a lot . . . so I got pretty used to it. There's an adjustment to shooting, getting used to the rims.
"But the mindset is the same: you go out and play as hard as you can. That should be every game, though. Home is comfortable, there's more of a routine. But if you come out with the same mindset, it shouldn't make much of a difference (home or away)."
Alec Burks, freshman, Grandview, Mo.: "We need to get more defensive rebounds and play defense harder . . . we'll win (on the road) if we do that. Coach says that every day in practice - every minute it seems like.
"I feel like I'm getting more (comfortable). I've got Dwight (Thorne II) and Cory (Higgins) helping me out, so I'm getting it a lot faster.
"Every day on defense I think I'm improving . . . that wasn't stressed at all in high school. They just told me to score the ball; they didn't care that much about defense. But I think I'm getting there."
Keegan Hornbuckle, freshman, Westlake Village, Calif.: "(Bzdelik) tells us to make it our home court, to make it as if we're playing here. Hopefully, we can do that even though our fans are going to be outnumbered (at CSU) and we're going to be in kind of a brutal situation in their home gym.
"But we're going to do our best to make that gym comfortable for us and try to do what we do.
"I think once we get a road win under our belts - especially the younger kids and the new kids - are going to feel more comfortable on the road. The older players have a lot of experience on the road; they know what it's like."
THE CU-CSU SERIES
Bzdelik: "Tim (Miles, CSU coach) has done an outstanding job of building that program. They play extremely hard, they make shots, they have a couple of guys inside that are a handful and they pound the glass real well. They're athletic inside and surround those guys with really good shooters that play really hard. They don't beat themselves."
McConnell-Miller: "The unique part is that three of our five (freshmen) are from instate. There's not much you need to talk about, and the other two (freshmen) are from Nebraska - they understand rivalries. And of our sophomores, four of the seven are from in-state.
"Our girls are friends with a lot of their players. Kelly Jo (Mullaney, a CSU transfer) has been on the other side of it.
"I haven't had to talk about it too much. After the Seton Hall game, I congratulated them and said this week we prepare for CSU.
"At that moment, it's understood; there isn't anything we have to put on a billboard . . . It's not like Bzdelik having to tell his guys from out of the state, or even out of the country, about CSU."
Burks: "They've told me it's really big (rivalry) . . . I went to the football game (CSU defeated CU 23-17 in the 2009 season opener) and saw how crazy the fans were. I think this is going to be the same way.
"Nah, it's not just another road game. You've got to look at it as more than that - with all the tradition behind it."
Hornbuckle: "I didn't know too much about CSU when I came, only that it was our cross state rival. I think the closeness (of the two schools) makes it special and a little different.
"It means a lot (to win), I know that. I think we'll be OK if we play like we've been playing here - but finishing. That's important and that's what coach is telling us."
Jeffery: "Yeah, I kind of know (about the rivalry). But to me, it doesn't matter who the opponent is, we go out and play. I don't think it's necessary for them (upperclassmen) to tell me about CSU."
Malcolm-Peck: "In-state rivalries are always tough. Both teams are battling because they want to show they're the best in the state . . . there's that extra push to want to win.
"Our team is really good with doing that most games anyways, so I don't there'll have to be an adjustment."
THE LAST ROAD TRIP
Bzdelik's team faltered down the stretch on Dec. 4 at Oregon, losing 74-69. His take: "We watched the film and they go, 'Oh, yeah.' And I say, why don't we 'Oh, yeah' during the game? I just showed them 35 defensive clips from the Oregon State game . . . with all that, you make free throws or a timely shot, like an open three we missed or a couple of free throws, and you're in a better position.
"You're never going to play perfect basketball, but if you take those 35 mistakes and cut it down to 18 only, it improves your chances. And that's where we've got to grow."
McConnell-Miller's team defeated Illinois-Chicago (63-49) on Nov. 20 before losing on Minnesota's home court (78-87) on Nov. 22 in the Gophers' holiday tournament. Her take: "I was very pleased with our two games in Minnesota because we played a full 40 minutes in each of them. Our younger players got a taste of what it takes to play on the road and I think they performed pretty well.
"It's been a long time (between trips), but the significance of this game (at CSU) is that we have to figure out what our personality on the road is and how we're going to perform."
Travel note: Bzdelik and McConnell-Miller are handling their teams' travel differently for this trip. The men bused to Fort Collins on Wednesday afternoon, spent the night and were scheduled for a routine road game-day on Thursday. Meanwhile, the women were scheduled to bus to Fort Collins on Friday morning, have an early shoot-around, then check into a hotel for the afternoon preceding Friday night's tip-off. Both teams are scheduled to return Boulder following their games.