A week after suffering a disappointing home loss to in-state rival Colorado State, Tad Boyle's group gritted out a 68-66 win against Xavier, the 13th-ranked team in the country. The game featured 13 lead changes, and neither team ever led by double digits.
Derrick White led the way for Colorado with 23 points. Xavier Johnson chipped in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and George King contributed a double-double as Colorado improved to 7-2. The Buffs avoided losing back-to-back home games, which has only happened once in the Boyle era.
“We beat a good team when we didn't play our best,” said Boyle. “I learned we can bounce back from adversity. We didn't fold our tent, didn't get our heads down. We didn't have bad body language like we did last Wednesday.
“We stressed playing loose and with confidence on offense, and not playing tight. We still have guys that are capable of playing better than they did tonight. We have to get some guys healthy and get some guys playing better, but man, what a win.”
Just like the frigid temperatures outside the Coors Events Center on Wednesday, both teams came out cold, combining to make just nine of their first 34 shots from the field. Both offenses started to wake up during the final nine minutes of the first half.
During a minute-and-a-half stretch, beginning with 4:43 left in the first half, the Buffs made three straight three-point shots to take a five point lead. The Musketeers would answer before halftime, though.
With big man Tory Miller out due to an ankle injury, and three Colorado players in early foul trouble, the Buffaloes uncharacteristically played zone defense for an extended stretch in the first half. Xavier took advantage by going on an 8-0 run the final 3:10 to take a three-point lead at the intermission.
Colorado returned to man-to-man defense in the second half, and held Xavier scoreless for a stretch of nearly six minutes. For the game, the Musketeers made just 37.7 percent of their shots, and only 7-of-27 from three-point range.
“It just shows you what we are capable of when we play Colorado basketball and focus on getting stops,” White said.
The Buffs hit Xavier with another barrage of three-pointers - three-in-a-row - to take their first lead of the second half with less than nine minutes remaining.
White made three clutch shots in the final three-and-a-half minutes, including a step-back contested jumper as the shot clock expired with 1:08 remaining. White also came up big on the defensive end of the court down the stretch. He blocked Quentin Goodin's shot with 17 seconds left to help preserve the victory.
“That is the Derrick White I have been talking about, the Derrick White we have been expecting to see,” Boyle said. “You have to have that. You can call all the plays in the world, have all the defensive concepts in the world, but if you don't have players that can make plays down the stretch, you are not going to win games like this.”
Despite an inconsistent start to the 2016-17 campaign, the Buffs now have two wins over a ranked opponent.
“We have learned we can compete at a high level, which we already knew, but it is better going out and doing it rather than talking about it,” King said. “That gives us a little bit more confidence within ourselves. So it helps us going forward for sure.”
Colorado will travel to play BYU in Provo on Saturday, a game that will tip off shortly after 8 pm (MT) with television coverage on ESPN2.
“We are going to have to be mentally tough to fight that road crowd,” Boyle said. “BYU is a good team. They like to play fast and we won't have an altitude advantage against them. We are going to need a great team effort Saturday night.”