Brooks: Large Week Looms For Buffs Hoops Teams
BOULDER - We're still on the cusp of March Madness, but the insanity arrives early for Colorado hoops. Both the CU men and women are within reach of the postseason - the guys for the first time since a 2006 NIT appearance, the gals since a WNIT visit in 2008.
With two regular-season games remaining before next week's Big 12 Conference postseason tournament in Kansas City, neither team has a significant margin for error. The men are 18-11 overall, 7-7 in the league; the women are 14-13, 5-9.
Courtesy of its 91-89 win Saturday against then-No. 5 Texas at the Coors Events Center, Tad Boyle's team has returned to NCAA Tournament chatter. Making the NCAAs is a bit more of a long shot for Linda Lappe's squad, but the WNIT is reachable with a .500 or better record.
Both teams are coming out of rare 2-0 weeks - the men winning at Texas Tech last Wednesday and on Saturday against then-No. 5 Texas, the women shocking then-No. 16/15 Oklahoma before winning at Missouri on Saturday.
But let's forget last week . . . it'll mean zip if this week goes sour.
On Wednesday night, the CU men are at Iowa State, the women at Nebraska, both having a chance to sweep. At the Events Center earlier this season, Boyle's Buffs blew past the Cyclones, 95-69, while Lappe's team buried the Cornhuskers, 70-45.
Two ways to view those scores as the return trips approach: They offer full doses for confidence for both CU squads, full measures of payback sought by ISU and Nebraska.
Following Wednesday night's games, the two CU teams close the regular season with games Saturday at the Events Center. On Senior Day/Night for both Buffs teams, the women play No. 3/3 Baylor and Brittney Griner at 2 p.m., the men face Nebraska at 7:05 p.m. The Huskers defeated the Buffs 79-67 in mid-January in Lincoln.
Boyle and Lappe are pounding the attendance drum for their respective home finales, hoping the crowd count will be as high as the stakes. General admission tickets remain for the women's game, but only reserved seats are still available for the men's contest. Since the games are about 21/2 hours apart, two tickets are required.
NO REASON TO GLOAT OR GET TRAPPED: Neither coach believes last week's success will be difficult for their players to deal with this week. Last week's pats on the back are easily forgotten when looking at the big picture and what remains to be done.
"The good thing is, for where we are in season with two games left, our guys know what's at stake coming down the stretch," Boyle said, also dismissing the idea that playing ISU looms as a "trap game."
"Everybody's patting you on the back; you can't get too full of yourself," he said. "With the limited games in front of us now, I don't think it'll be a problem . . . we're not going to look past anybody."
He said he also would remind his players about the fate suffered by Nebraska after it knocked off Texas two Saturdays ago. After handing the Longhorns their first Big 12 loss, the Cornhuskers lost games last week to Kansas State (61-57) and Iowa State (83-82, OT).
Lappe acknowledged "there is a chance" of her players suffering temporary disorientation after back-to-back Big 12 'W's - a first this season.
"What you have to do is stay focused, stay grounded and know what it took to get those two wins," Lappe said. "That's only two wins in a row, and we're striving for something much greater than that - although it's a great accomplishment for us and where we're at right now. We're moving forward, hoping to get three and four in a row.
"But we just have to make sure as a staff we keep them knowing what it took to get those two wins. And it wasn't easy."
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Following Saturday's win against Texas, CU sophomore Alec Burks said he received congratulations on campus and other kudos via email and text messages. He also got acknowledgement from at least one of his professors. Another, he said, wasn't aware of the Buffs' big weekend win.
But in his sign language class, his teacher "signed" him congratulations on beating the Longhorns. "And he did it in front of the class," said Burks, who earned player of the week honors from the Big 12 and ESPN's Andy Katz.
"AB" averaged 23.5 points, nine rebounds, and three assists per game in the Buffs' pair of wins and called the awards "a great honor . . . it shows your hard work gets recognition. That's always good; this is one of the best leagues in the nation; it's hard to win that award."
Burks' memories of Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum aren't good ones; he suffered a mild knee sprain in the first two minutes of last season's visit and missed the remainder of the game. CU lost, 64-63.
"I remember I got hurt, that's all," he said. "I was in the locker room for about 10 minutes, then I came back out and watched the game. I felt like if I was playing, I could have helped my team."
Burks and Boyle expect an up-tempo game Wednesday night. Said Burks: "You see a different team at home . . . they'll probably make a lot more shots. But we have to get this road win, then finish off this week right (against Nebraska)."
FOCUS IS THE KEY: Chucky Jeffery and her CU women teammates are coming off back-to-back conference wins for the first time this season. Prior to those two victories, they had lost six of seven before stunning the Sooners, 73-68.
The difference between their 2-0 week and the two previous weeks?
"Focus," Jeffery said. "We were mentally prepared. We stayed together, played together, knew what we needed to do to win and followed the game plan - just the little things we let get away from us for the streak we had with those losses. We got refocused."
THEY LOVE THEIR HOOPS: One of the Iowa State figures that impresses Boyle the most is the average attendance in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones are drawing 12,190 fans a game - the league's fourth-best mark.
"I can't say enough about their fans; I've bragged about our fans all year, but when you think about Iowa State being 2-12 in the league (15-14 overall) and being fourth in the league in attendance, that shows you what kind of fan support they get," Boyle said. "They're loyal. Hilton Coliseum is a really tough place to play - and it's their Senior Night. It's going to take a great effort on our part."
First-year ISU coach Fred Hoiberg is stressing Senior Night - mainly because he doesn't want his upperclassmen to exit as he did.
"I'd love to have these guys go out and win the last time they put on a uniform in Hilton Coliseum," he said. "I did not do that; I didn't play well my Senior Night and I remember it. It still bothers me."
DON'T WASTE THE WINS: Lappe is sending that message to her players this week, and it's essentially from the same script used by Boyle.
"That big win over OU gave us a lot of confidence; like the coaches have been saying, we've got to get the teams we've gotten here at home," Jeffery said. "We know we beat Missouri and Nebraska here, but it's tougher going into Nebraska to play. Everybody brings their 'A' game on their own floor. We've got to be ready for them.
"We've got to come back and work . . . just like when after the OU game we were thinking about Mizzou. We can't dwell on anything else. We're playing good basketball now and we know what we need to get to the postseason. We're coming in ready to work."
In her days as a CU player, Lappe became accustomed to postseason competition. Nothing would please her better than have her first Buffs team experience it - and it's there for the grabbing.
"We're playing for something, and that's always fun at this time of year," she said. "Not every team gets to be playing for something . . . we'd love to make it to the WNIT, but in order to do that we've got to take care of business. At the same time, though, the pressure is still off and we have to make sure that we know that . . . we have to go in with that kind of mentality."
HIGH AND MIGHTY? Boyle is of the opinion, as are a bunch of other legitimate hoopsters, that playing his up-and-down, high-possession style at 5,345 feet can create a pretty nice home court advantage.
After CU came back from a 22-point first-half deficit and edged Texas, Boyle said the Buffs' benefited greatly from the altitude and their pace in the second half - particularly given how the Longhorns misfired at the free throw line. After making four-of-five in the first half, they finished the game 20-of-34.
"I think the way that we play, the tempo we played at, you saw them miss a lot of free throws down the stretch," Boyle said. "You saw them miss a lot of shots down the stretch. There's something to it. The style of play that we are playing is the right way to play in Boulder, Colo. They are not the first team to get gassed in the second half. They had some good free throw shooters missing free throws, too."
Among the dissenters (sort of) in the altitude-makes-a-difference theory is Texas Coach Rick Barnes, who said Monday it didn't affect his team's second-half free throw shooting: "I don't think any of that at all. I don't think we were tired in second half."
What happened in the final 20 minutes? Barnes claimed his players "just didn't help each other (offensively or defensively) . . . it gets back to execution and we didn't consistently get that."
ANOTHER FLATLANDER'S VIEW: Hoiberg says yes, altitude worked to the home team's advantage can be a game-changer. Hoiberg played in Boulder when he was at ISU (1991-95) and in Denver when he was in the NBA (1995-05).
"It's a very difficult place to play just because of the altitude," said Hoiberg, who prefers an up-tempo style but concedes his team "didn't run very effectively" in its 26-point loss to the Buffs in Boulder.
"The way we play, if we get a good look in transition, we're going to take it," he said. "If it's not there, we want to pull it out - especially on the road and be smart with the ball, value the possession. I didn't feel we did that very well; we turned the ball over, which gave them easy baskets in transition. That's what you can't do against Colorado.
"I've been watching the Texas game . . . (CU) scored 58 points in the second half against Texas. And Texas is as good defensively - I saw that first hand - as anybody in the country. So it's a tough place to go out and run with them."
ON TAKING IT INSIDE: Here's Nebraska coach Doc Sadler's take (tongue-in-cheek, we think) on playing at altitude: Asked on Monday's Big 12 coaches' teleconference about the altitude affecting his players, Sadler answered, "We play inside, don't we? I think altitude is something that affects people outside the building."
For the record, the line about altitude not being a factor if you play indoors is generally credited to the late Abe Lemons, who coached collegiately in Oklahoma and Texas. Lemons had a truckload of memorable lines, among them, "Finish last in your league and they call you 'idiot.' Finish last in medical school and they call you 'doctor.'"
AROUND THE RIM: CU is trying to get senior Levi Knutson into the three-point shooting contest at the Final Four. With Knutson hitting 48 percent of his trey attempts, the school has been told "he will receive consideration and has been on our radar." His 57 three-pointers leads the Buffs, and that total is the most by a CU player since Richard Roby hit 63 in the 2005-06 season. But Knutson's total is the most by a CU non-starter . . . . This season marks the first time the Buffs will finish with 31 regular-season games . . . . The Big 12 has five teams in the top 30 of this week's RPI. CU is at 77, Nebraska at 82. It doesn't matter to Burks. "I don't even know what that is," he said of the weekly RPI. "I know if you win enough games, you'll be in (the NCAA Tournament)." . . . . The CU men's four wins in February were the most since the 2003-04 team won five. The Buffs went to the NIT that season . . . . The CU women's game at Nebraska on Wednesday will be televised by FSN Rocky Mountain (6:05 p.m. MST). The men's game at Iowa State can be picked up in the ESPN family . . . . Iowa State's Jamie Vanderbeken, a 6-11 senior, is back in the lineup after missing three games with an ankle injury. He scored only five points and had no rebounds in ISU's bad loss in Boulder, but in Saturday's OT win against Nebraska he contributed a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) . . . . Boyle's choice for the biggest play in the upset of Texas was Austin Dufault's tip-in that put the Buffs up 81-70 with just under 3 minutes to play. Said Boyle: "And I told him that afterwards." . . . . Hoiberg is involved in the Shots From The Heart Campaign, an American Heart Association fund-raiser that will have him match free throws with New Mexico Coach Steve Alford. Whoever has the longest streak without a miss advances in the competition. The endeavor is special for Hoiberg, who was born with an abnormal aortic valve that eventually led to an aneurism in his aorta and required open heart surgery to correct. It was discovered when underwent a routine life insurance exam and "the doctor told me I was playing with a ticking time bomb in my chest." At the time, he was having his best NBA season. "I'm very blessed to be here right now," he said. "Heart disease doesn't discriminate; it's the No. 1 killer in the world." . . . . With one week remaining in the regular season, there are currently a minimum of 64 different combinations of ties that could happen in the Big 12 men's standings with teams having 11 different records.