Basketball coaches say the darndest things. I mean, on Thursday, Colorado coach Tad Boyle told his athletic director, Rick George, “if we win this game, we can win the tournament.”
You wonder if George didn’t look at his coach and say, “Tad, did we just activate Lew Alcindor or Jason Kidd? Did Utah miss the bus to Vegas? Are the Ducks in quarantine from an outbreak of the swine flu in Oregon?”
And then the Buffaloes fell behind Arizona 37-16 and lost 82-78, after which Boyle said, “We’re a team that I don’t think people are going to want to play (in the NCAA tournament).”
There’s a lot of that going around in college basketball this month, a lot of false bravado, especially in the Pac-12, where Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Cal combined to go 69-3 at home.
But by this time in March you don’t play at home anymore. You pay for every mistake, especially a colossal mistake such as falling behind a Top 25 team like Arizona by 21 points in the first half.
The Buffaloes went 0-5 on the road in the last half of the Pac-12 season and 2-7 overall, and none of those games were at McKale Center. So Thursday’s moment-of-truth at the MGM Grand Arena was in effect another road game for Colorado. Of the 12,916 fans in the arena, about 9,000 wore Arizona red.
Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean told his audience it was “almost unfair” that UA fans could buy up so much space.
Nevertheless, Boyle said “we really felt in our hearts we could win this tournament.”
Do you think his athletic director will buy it?
It’s probably more accurate to say that Colorado is a lot like Arizona State, with one exception: The Buffaloes have senior center Josh Scott, who is a difference-maker. Take Scott out of the lineup, and CU is ASU North.
“It was a tough game like always against Arizona,” said Scott, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds, which didn’t match, or come close to his 26-point game against Arizona last month, in which he scored 17 of CU’s final 25 points and triggered a court-storming at the Coors Events Center. “They play incredibly hard.”
The only person in Las Vegas worrying about Colorado’s after-the-fact rally, a 58-point second half burst that made the Wildcats squirm in the final five minutes, was Arizona coach Sean Miller.
He did not seem to agree with Scott’s “they play incredibly hard” declaration.
By the time Miller arrived for his media session, the survive-and-advance factor had kicked in. Thousands of UA fans celebrated in the many MGM Grand saloons and worried not about hanging on against Colorado, but about how difficult it will be to beat Oregon on Friday night.
Did it matter that the Wildcats mailed it in after halftime? Only if your name is Sean Miller.
“In our best and worst moments this season, we’ve been a one-half team,” he said, chopping off his words. “It has really plagued us through 31 games.”
Miller had a choice to (a) admire his club’s first-half in which it played to a we-own-Vegas theme and attacked Colorado so relentlessly that 7-foot Kaleb Tarczewski shot 0 for 7 and it didn’t matter.
The Wildcats led 37-20 and, if you subtract Scott’s numbers, the Buffaloes shot a combined 3 for 22 from the field.
But Miller chose (b) to be in near-shock that Colorado out-rebounded Arizona 51-35 — rebounding is the UA’s calling card, and took an unthinkable 45 field goal attempts in the second half. His team took 17.
“I choose to focus on the latter,” said Miller. “I’ve never been part of a (second half) like that.”
Colorado had scored more than 50 points in the second half several times this season, but it was against Omaha, Nichols State and Hampton. It didn’t matter any more then than it did Thursday.
Thursday’s second half is by now as inconsequential as Arizona’s 75-72 February loss at Colorado, and it’s as meaningless as Gabe York’s remarkable nine three-point baskets against Stanford last weekend.
York made one three-pointer Thursday. It didn’t matter. What matters is beating the Ducks in Friday’s semifinals.
Miller won’t be lacking in psychological ammunition. His club’s lack of second half fire and the memory of Oregon snapping a 49-game winning streak at McKale Center should fuel a roaring motivational fire.
Arizona won and was unhappy. The Buffaloes lost and, as Boyle said, “when you lose to Arizona, there’s no reason to hang your head.”
It must be March. Nothing much makes sense anymore.