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Brooks: Buffs Grind Out 61-52 Win Over Sun Devils

Feb 19, 2014

BOULDER – Tad Boyle cringes at the mention of revenge as a motivator, but he probably doesn’t object to pay-back. His Colorado Buffaloes got that (and maybe just a little revenge) Wednesday night at the Coors Events Center, out-gutting and out-grinding Arizona State, 61-52.

CU’s win broke a three-game Pac-12 Conference losing streak to ASU and gave Boyle’s fourth Buffs team its fourth 20-win season – a school-record. The Buffs (20-7, 9-5) now have back-to-back 20-win regular seasons and improved to 60-8 at the CEC under Boyle, including 16-1 this season with only No. 4 Arizona remaining on the home schedule.

Boyle was noticeably dialed in and demonstrative in front of his bench.

“I’m tired of losing to these guys, number one, and number two, I knew what was at stake,” he said. “They’re a physical team and you’d better buck up and be physical back, otherwise they’ll punk you. I wanted to make sure I was dialed in. I feel that way every game. I may not show it every game, but I wanted our fans to know and our players to know how important this game was – and I think they really fed off it.”

He called the grueling win “great for our program and it came at a very instrumental time in our season . .  . our guys stepped up and our crowd was fantastic for a 9 p.m. tipoff. I can’t be more thankful and my hat goes off to them . . . now we need them one more time – Saturday.”

If pay-back was on someone else’s mind beside Boyle, it was Josh Scott. In a low-post entanglement last season with ASU’s 7-2 Jordan Bachynski, CU’s 6-10 Scott was flung to the court and suffered a concussion. The Buffs lost 63-62 in overtime.

Wednesday night was day-and-night different. The energized Scott was the banger, Bachynski the bangee. Scott got his 11th double-double of the season – 13 points, 13 rebounds as CU out-boarded ASU 48-27 – and held Bachynski to four points and three rebounds.

“Josh takes this matchup personal,” Boyle said. “What went on here last year in this building, we didn’t like it, we didn’t appreciate it and he hadn’t forgotten about it. Neither had I. And I don’t think our fans had either. I’m proud of Josh, he’s a battler; I’ll take that guy any day of the week.”

Boyle also called Scott “such an underrated post defender,” and except for losing track of ASU sharpshooter Jonathan Gilling, all the Buffs were fairly solid on defense. Gilling, a 6-7 junior, scored nine of his 10 points on consecutive 3-pointers in the second half and brought the Sun Devils (19-7, 8-5) back from a nine-point deficit.

ASU finished shooting 31.5 percent from the field (17-of-54) while CU was at 37.0 percent from the field (20-of-54). The Buffs committed 14 turnovers to the Sun Devils’ 11, but got 12 points off of the ASU miscues to seven for the visitors. Other than the huge board discrepancy, this was one of  the night’s most telling numbers : CU scored 12 second-chance points to zero by ASU.

But  Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said the game's "biggest story line once again was our rebounding. You can't step over the fact that we got annihilated on the boards. Colorado just massacred us on the boards."

Boyle called the win grittier and gutsier than it was pretty, adding, “Sometimes Arizona State has a lot to do with that . . . Arizona State makes you earn your shots.”

CU’s Askia Booker and ASU’s Jahii Carson each scored 18 points, and Xavier Johnson contributed 11 for the Buffs. Booker scored 16 of his total in the second half. He got the Buffs’ first six points of the half, then closed out the Sun Devils by making six consecutive free throws in the final 39 seconds.

And the last of Booker’s three assists – CU finished with 11 – was a bullet pass to Dustin Thomas underneath for a layup that made the score 53-48. “In my mind,” said Boyle, “that was the play of the game.”

The importance of the game, said Booker, registered with him and his teammates four minutes into the game “at the first media timeout . . . You could tell how intense coach was in the huddle. This may be the most emotion I’ve seen out of him this year. You could tell he really wanted to win and I think that translated to the players.”

CU ran at every opportunity, and Boyle theorized that ASU “got tired some, I could see some heavy legs and burning lungs out there.”

The Buffs led 27-26 at the end of an intensely physical first half. If you craved defense, the CEC was your kind of venue.

Booker, averaging 19.6 points in February’s five previous games, didn’t get his first basket until the 5:23 mark, converting a steal into a layup and a 21-19 Buffs lead. Johnson, averaging 18.4 points in February, didn’t score until the 2:04 mark with a put-back.

Boyle was forced deep into his bench as Booker, Xavier Talton and Dustin Thomas – all starters – had picked up two fouls each with just over 6 minutes left before the break.

Nonetheless, the Buffs took a one-point lead to their locker room. But once back on the court, it quickly disappeared. ASU scored the second half’s first six points, getting two layups from Carson and a jumper from Jermaine Marshall to go up 32-27 – the largest lead by either team to that point.

But after a timeout, it was Booker time. He scored CU’s first six points of the half – two layups and a short jumper – to give the Buffs a 33-32 lead, then smoothly fed Scott for a fast-break dunk and a 35-32 lead.

CU got a tip dunk and one of two free throws by Johnson to go up 38-34 with 12:31 to play. Two minutes later, Johnson hit consecutive free throws and the Buffs were up 40-35.

It went to nine points -- 45-36 – before Gilling connected on three consecutive treys to pull ASU to within 47-45 with 5:28 remaining. The Sun Devils got no closer and the Buffs closed out their 20th win on Booker’s free throws.

Boyle said winning 20 games for a fourth consecutive season “means we’ve recruited good players (and) we’ve coached good players. It takes good players to win games and our staff’s done a great job, our fans have really taken the homecourt advantage to heart. They’ve shown up through thick and thin. It’s a great feeling; we want that to be the standard.”

BLACKOUT SATURDAY: With College GameDay here on Saturday to see the Buffs play No. 4/4 Arizona on ESPN at 7 p.m., fans are encouraged to wear black and make it the Coors Events Center’s best BLACKOUT ever. In addition, Saturday is Senior Night, honoring fan favorites Beau Gamble and Ben Mills. The doors will open Saturday at 6 a.m. (no admission charge) for the morning broadcast hosted by ESPN analysts Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams. Live look-ins during the SportsCenter broadcast will start at approximately 7 a.m.  Need a reason to get up early? Take your choice:

• Free breakfast food, coffee, Kickstart, and other giveaways for students;

• Free Illegal Pete’s burrito cards to first 250 students;

• Make your own poster at the CEC for the broadcast;

• Show off your CU Pride and Passion on National TV;

• A chance to win CU vs. Arizona tickets;

• One lucky student will win $1,000 and get the chance to make a half-court shot worth $18,000.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU