The Buffs, who moved to 2-1 on the year with the win, managed to hold off the Big Ten school the rest of the way, and hit eight-of-11 foul shots in the final 2:02 to preserve the victory.
Copeland ended with 15 points and 10 boards — both career highs — in 25 minutes of play.
"I contribute that to him getting his hair cut," Patton said afterwards. "Doesn't he look better? I just think if you look better, you feel better; you feel better, you play better."
Copeland replaced Andy Osborn in the starting lineup, and Marcus Hall started at point guard, while Jayson Obazuaye moved to the wing and Glean Eddy — who started CU's first two games — came off the bench. Richard Roby and Julius Ashby rounded out the first five.
The new look came after Patton, in a secret ballot vote, asked each of his players who they thought should start. It was the first time Patton had made such a move, and was prompted by an ill-advised shot that Martane Freeman took in practice this week. According to Patton, rather than hitting an open Copeland, Freeman took a 3-pointer.
"I explained to (Freeman) that I didn't think he had shown he was a better shooter than Chris. I said I don't think that your teammates think you are either. So we asked them if you have to pick between Martane and Chris Copeland to make a 3 for your dinner, which one would you pick. They all picked Copeland," Patton explained.
That sparked the idea for Patton to poll the team on who deserved to start. Freeman did not see any action Sunday.
But his services weren't needed against the Wildcats, who might have forced a different outcome if they shot better. Northwestern, which employed Coach Bill Carmody's movement offense well, couldn't convert on many open shots, and hit just four of 23 from beyond the arc. They fell to 1-3 on the season.
As he has in each of the team's games this year, Roby led the Buffs in scoring with 16. He also led them in rebounds with 13.
Points: Roby 16, Copeland 15, Obazuaye 14
Rebounds: Roby 13, Copeland 10
Assists: Osborn 3
Turnovers: Roby 5
Blocks: Ashby 2, Roby 2
Steals: Ashby 3, Roby 3
Points: Vedran Vukusic 25
Rebounds: Vukusic 9
Assists: Tim Doyle 4
Turnovers: Vukusic 3, T.J. Parker 3
Steals: Davor Duvancic 2
On halftime adjustments
JO: In the second half we tried to pick up the tempo. They run that Princeton offense that, you know, they try to get it down to the last 10 seconds and take a shot.
In the first half we started playing to their style. Coach told us at halftime to try to get after it a little more.
Q: How much of a challenge is it to play against that kind of an offense, where they keep moving so much?
JO: It gets you winded; you find yourself chasing someone all the time. But I think we did a pretty good job tonight. We settled down. We figured out that a lot of times they were just cutting to cut; they weren't looking for the passes.
On the new starting lineup
RR: Our team is very deep and a lot of guys could start. A lot of guys play a lot of minutes. We all know how to play with each other, so it probably wasn't as big a deal as people would think. We play in different lineups in practice, and I guess (Coach Patton) thought this was the best lineup for right now.
On what the team learned from the loss at Michigan
RR: We learned that we can fight. We were on the road in a tough environment. After the first two minutes in the Michigan game, after the first TV timeout, we (scored more points than MU), by five points. We know we can play with big schools like that.
RP: It's a good win against a very good, quality opponent. Boy, they just execute their stuff to perfection.
Late in the game when it was 41 to 37 (Northwestern ahead), it was a scary time. We managed to get the right lineup on the floor and got some defensive stops. I thought going to the zone really helped once we got the lead.
On the process of picking the starting lineup
RP: We have so many new guys, and sometimes when we have so many positions open, guys have an exaggerated opinion of themselves. As a coach, you try to tell guys what their weaknesses are and explain to them why they aren't playing.
When they see where their teammates put them also, it might help a guy to get better. Sometimes guys just think it's the coach. They don't realize their teammates feels the way the coach feels.
Letting those guys vote on the starters kind of tells some guys, it's not just the coaches, it's my teammates.
Q: Where did you get that idea? Have you ever done that before?
I've got a lot of ideas. (laughs). This is the first time I've ever done it. It's the first time I felt like I needed to do it.
I guess what sparked it was a couple of days ago in practice we were running our offense and Martane Freeman took a shot and Chris Copeland was open at the top of the key. I told Martane he should have made one more pass to get the ball to Chris Copeland. I asked him if he thought he was a better 3-point shooter than Chris, and he said, "yes."
I explained to him that I didn't think he had shown he was a better shooter than Chris. I said I don't think that your teammates think you are either. So we asked them if you have to pick between Martane and Chris Copeland to make a 3 for your dinner, which one would you pick. They all picked Copeland.
I think that can send a message that sometimes we can be a legend in our own mind.
Q: How important is it to your confidence to play your best basketball of the game when you were down?
I think it's huge. It's always huge when you can come from adversity and pull out victory. But now we have to make sure our next step in growing is operating with more of a sense of urgency. I realize that our schedule is much too tough in the preseason and our conference to come out not ready to play on both ends of the floor.
Q: Did you see a lot of growth from Chris Copeland today, with the way he played in the second half?
RP: I did. And I contribute that to him getting his haircut. (laughter). Doesn't he look better. I just think if you look better, you feel better; you feel better, you play better.
That's a true statement. I do believe that. But, yeah, I thought that he took some strides today and I was happy for him that he continued to play well after the team had selected him as a starter.
Q: During the first part of the first half they had three uncontested baskets in the middle of the lane. What did you do to correct that?
RP: One of the things that continued to happen in the first half was they were setting high post screen and our post player who's guarding the screener wasn't showing, wasn't helping and wasn't getting between that driver and the basket. So he ended up chasing the guy.
We did a better job in the second half when guys were driving we had our wing players getting in and getting a hand on the ball. Richard Roby got a steal like that. In the first half we just weren't helping each other defensively.
Q: Sometimes it looked like late in the second half you were sliding between a 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defense.
RP: Their movement distorted the 1-3-1 and made it look like a 2-3 at times. But we were primarily playing the 1-3-1 zone. The long layoff gave us an opportunity to work on that. Certainly we want to get better at that, because I think it's a defense that will be good to us at times.
Against College of Charleston, we had toyed a little bit with the 3-2. And I just didn't think that worked as well. They're too many holes in it for us.
But I really look the 1-3-1 defense, particularly when we put a big guy in the back to help with rebounding.
Q: You had eight blocked shots. What' your comment on that?
RP: I'll be honest with you, I don't know if I saw many of them. I was so worried about defense, and stopping the ball. We have guys that are capable of changing shots (Julius Ashby and Lamont Arrington), which is important. I thought Lamont played well for us coming off the bench. He can't play real long spurts because of his asthma. He needs a blow every now and then. But he did a nice job of changing shots for us.
More on Northwestern
RP: I think they're a very good basketball team. They're going to win some games in the Big Ten, no doubt. Talking with my friend at Michigan, the assistant coach, he had talked about how their league thinks that Northwestern is going to be a team to contend with.
And the coach there, (Bill Carboy) he does a solid job. At one point, I turned to my assistant and said, ‘Why can't I get my guys to move, cut and screen that hard?' We work on it. But there's something about that system that guys buy into. It evens out maybe some of the lack of athleticism the team might have.
Sunday's attendance was 2.167 ... It was Hall's first career start, and he scored 5 points in 33 minutes of play. ...The Buffs held NW guard T.J. Parker — the brother of San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker — to 8 points. ...Colorado plays at Oregon State Dec. 4 (FSN), and at Cal-Berkeley Dec. 7 (FSN).