Buffs Rip Red Raiders In Home Finale, 101-90
BOULDER - Now, can they do it again next week on a neutral court?
The Colorado Buffaloes dispatched Texas Tech, 101-90, on Saturday afternoon at the Coors Events Center. Their reward: A rematch against the Red Raiders on Wednesday morning in Kansas City in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference postseason tournament.
With its third consecutive victory and fourth in six games, CU nailed down the No. 8 seed, while Tech, which lost its seventh straight, is No. 9.
The key to winning that critical No. 8-9 matchup, said CU coach Jeff Bzdelik, will be in "our mental approach. We certainly have to have that edge, that fire, because they're going to have it.
"Their coaches will draw on the fact that they lost here (Saturday) . . . do we have, can we rekindle, that edge?"
If the Buffs can, they likely will earn a postseason bid to the NIT. Improving to 15-15, they need to win at least once in Kansas City to assure themselves of a .500 finish and NIT consideration. A first-round victory over Tech would put CU in the quarterfinals against No. 1 Kansas, which has a first-round bye.
The Buffs' 6-10 conference record and No. 8 finish is their best by far under Bzdelik, whose previous two CU teams entered the league tournament as No. 12 seeds.
"This is tangible evidence we're taking steps forward," Bzdelik said. "Next year we need to finish even higher than that . . . keep showing improvement, keep going forward."
Since mid-February, Texas Tech (16-14, 4-12) has gone in the other direction.
"We're in a bad way . . . it's been a bad three weeks," Red Raiders coach Pat Knight said. "I take the blame. I've done a bad job, because it falls on the head coach, so I have to do something to change this."
Knight's accusing finger went first to his team yielding 101 points - the most CU has scored in a conference game since 2000 (102 against Iowa State).
"That's just way too much," he said. "The first half was brutal (CU led 53-35 at intermission). They just killed us, buried us."
After scoring the game's first basket - a three-pointer by Nick Okorie - the Red Raiders' 15 seconds of fame was over. They stayed close for 7 minutes, trailing 12-9 until the Buffs put together an 18-3 run to go up 30-12 on back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks with 8:58 left in the half.
Burks finished with 24 points - second on the Buffs to Cory Higgins' 30 - and became CU's all-time leading freshman scorer (488), surpassing Richard Roby (480). Marcus Relphorde chipped in 18, including a personal season-high 15 in the first half, and Levi Knutson came off the bench to add 11. Senior Dwight Thorne II, playing his final regular-season home game, hit eight points, collected five rebounds and dished out two assists.
Burks, who also contributed nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, said breaking the freshman scoring record "means a lot. It means a great freshman performance, so it means a great deal to me to break that record."
Burks' season-long performance, said Bzdelik, should make him the Big 12 freshmen-of-the-year: "I think that just says it all. He's a very, very talented player."
The Buffs led by 18 points at halftime - their largest in conference play this season, their 53 points were a season-high - and were up by as many as 20 early in the second half before Tech closed to 92-84 on a three-point play by Nick Okorie (34 points) with 2:10 left. But that eight-point deficit, and another on a tip-in in the last half minute, was as close as the Red Raiders got.
After scoring the game's first basket - a three-pointer by Okorie - the Red Raiders' 15 seconds of fame was over. They stayed close for 7 minutes, trailing 12-9 until the Buffs put together an 18-3 run to go up 30-12 on back-to-back baskets by Burks with 8:58 left in the half.
CU held at least a 15-point lead for the remainder of the half and led by 18 points on four other occasions, including the break (53-35).
That first-half pounding undoubtedly will be a source of motivation for Knight. Playing the same opponent with such a quick turnaround, he said, might work in his team's favor "because you are ticked off and you did something to lose, so now you try to correct that. (But) it's going to be tough. They are going to be playing with confidence . . . from the confidence factor, they have the edge."
Once almost non-existent, CU's confidence is soaring, said Higgins, who hit nine of his 10 field goal attempts and was 11-of-15 from the free-throw line: "This is probably the most confidence since I've been part of the Colorado program. I think this team has a little bit of cockiness and swagger - and I think that helped us a lot through this year."
But the Buffs' confidence now must be matched with a surge in defensive intensity for Game One in the Big 12 tournament.
"We have to stop somebody; we gave up 90 points," said Higgins. "They were getting too many easy buckets, and it's the same old thing - rebounds (CU was out-boarded 38-30 and outscored 46-32 in the paint and 15-8 on second-chance points).
"We need to tighten up on the defensive end. We can't let them score 90 points again and expect we are going to score 100, because that doesn't happen."