Brooks: Buffs, Racers Chase Classic Championship
CHARLESTON, S.C. - After an emotional win against No. 16 Baylor on Friday, a day of rest was in order here Saturday for the Colorado Buffaloes. Only it wasn't a full day of rest; just as coach Tad Boyle promised on Friday, many free throws were shot by his starters and top reserves.
The Buffs also will have most of Sunday to refocus (and probably step to the foul line a few more times) before playing Murray State Sunday night in the championship game of the Charleston Classic. Tipoff is at 6:30 p.m. MST (ESPN2, KOA 850 am). Both teams are 3-0.
Do the Buffs need nearly two full days to get mentally beyond their 60-58 victory against the Bears, who had eliminated them from the NCAA Tournament last March? "We'll find that out tomorrow at 8:30; I don't know the answer to that now," Boyle said.
But some of his players had an immediate answer. Said sophomore point guard Spencer Dinwiddie of a possible grudge matchup that was on the Buffs' minds when they left campus early Tuesday morning: "The (Baylor) game's over; it's already behind us. We celebrated last night. I went out to a nice steak dinner with my dad. Now it's all business; it's on to Murray State."
All business will be required for the Buffs to get past the Racers and win an in-season tournament for the first time since 2002-03 (Pepsi Classic, Charlotte, N.C.). When the Charleston field was announced, Boyle immediately identified Murray State as the team most likely to be playing on Sunday night. He wasn't selling his team short, but tagging the Racers as the week's favorite wasn't difficult.
Murray State, of the Ohio Valley Conference, opened 23-0 last season and finished 31-2. The Racers eliminated Colorado State (58-41) from the NCAA Tournament before being ousted by Marquette (62-53) in the next round. Murray State's talent is matched by its experience; the starting lineup is composed of four seniors and a junior.
But Dinwiddie believes CU's summer trip to Europe brought the Buffs together and accelerated their growth: "I think our team has grown up fast," he said "The Baylor game went to the wire - that makes you grow up. The Europe trip helped. We played a very good Dayton team, too; they were very solid. We're going to play another team now that's very good. But we think we can get up and down with them, so it should be good."
Dinwiddie said the Racers' long winning streak last season and the record they carried into March Madness were attention grabbers: "Of course . . . when any team is like 30-2 or 30-1, whatever they were, you tend to tune in and watch them because you want to see where it's happening over there. And I've seen Isaiah Canaan play before; I know he's a very good player."
That's an understatement. Boyle thinks the 6-1 senior could be an NBA lottery pick. He averages 17.3 points and four assists and has hit eight of his 21 three-point attempts. Two other Murray State seniors - Stacy Wilson and Ed Daniel - also average in double figures. Wilson is at 20.7 points a game - he had a game-high 23 in the Racers' comeback win here against St. John's - and the 6-7 Daniel is at 15 points and 11 rebounds a game.
Daniel, said Boyle, is a "freak of an athlete . . . a senior who's a lot like Andre (Roberson) and Xavier (Johnson). They've got some weapons. It'll be a heck of a challenge."
With Sunday's tip not until 8:30 p.m. local time, the Buffs were scheduled to get their first scouting report on the Racers on Sunday morning. Here's some of what Boyle will tell them: The Racers are good in both transition and in a half-court offense, they are comfortable shooting from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, they don't have the front-line size the Buffs faced in Dayton or Baylor.
"But in terms of toughness and knowing how to play, they're good at every position," Boyle said. "Their depth is probably not as good, if we can get into their bench. But these guys are used to playing 30-plus minutes a game. A day's rest is going to help them just like it's going to help us. It's going to be hard to rely on the fatigue factor . . . they've got toughness and resolve about them; that's how they've won games. We have to understand it's going to be a 40-minute game."
Sabatino Chen, CU's only senior, said playing such an experienced opponent demands that the Buffs "play with composure and control what we can control. Our defense will win us the game like it's won us the last two games."
In CU's 67-57 opening win here against Dayton, as well as in the two-point win against Baylor, Dinwiddie was matched against a pair of high-profile point guards. He'll make it three-for-three Sunday night against Canaan - the best of the bunch.
"It'll be my third top 10 point guard in three games," Dinwiddie said. "It'll be fun."
The Buffs began the season with a defensive goal of keeping opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field. They've met that in all three games. "I always thought going into the season our offense would get there and our defense was going to pick us up," Chen said. "And we've stepped up defensively.
"We have to execute on offense better and finish (Sunday). We missed a lot of easy baskets last game - layups and open jumpers we normally would hit. It's just executing. Some games it's not going to fall, so that's when we have to rely on our defense to do it."
The Buffs also have to be better at the free throw line. In two games here, they are 18-for-42 - including four-of-18 in the narrow win Friday. Both Chen and Dinwiddie said CU's foul line struggles were mostly mental.
Dinwiddie, who was one-for-five from the line against Baylor, said, "I've been a mid-80s (percent) free throw shooter since I was a kid. It's pretty much all mental . . . all of us are going to change."
The Buffs had a split practice on Saturday morning. Players who haven't seen as many minutes in the tournament went through individual drills and other work on the arena court, while starters and key reserves shot free throws for most of the hour on an auxiliary court.
"Maybe guys weren't used to the gym," Chen said. "But what it comes down to is a mental thing."
BUFF BITS: Murray State advanced to Sunday's championship game with victories against Auburn (79-59) and St. John's (72-67) . . . . Mark Johnson, KOA Radio's voice of the Buffs, called CU's first two games here, but returned to Boulder for Saturday's football game against Washington. He will be replaced Sunday by Tim Smile, who formerly did play-by-play for CU women's basketball games . . . . The Buffs and Racers have played once previously. CU won 98-71 in Boulder on Dec. 8, 2000 . . . . The last time a CU men's team was nationally ranked came in the 2005-06 season when the Buffs were No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll . . . . The Buffs are scheduled to return to Boulder on Monday afternoon.