Buffs Try and Focus Through Holiday Schedule

The holidays are a time for giving, festivities with family and friends and reflection on important things in life. For the Colorado men's basketball team, it's also a time of final exams, odd practice schedules in unfamiliar venues and tune-up games as conference play looms. Inside, a look at CU's wacky week, upcoming opponent UC-Irvine, and an update on recruit Kal Bay.

The past several days, members of the basketball team have been immersed in final exams. Because the university uses the Coors Event Center — both the men's and women's basketball teams' home arena and practice court — for final exams, the teams have been displaced since Sunday. Put those two factors together and the men's team hasn't had a full allotment of players at recent practices, which have taken place at the old Carlson Gym near Balch Fieldhouse.

This week they've practiced in Carlson at 7:30 at night, 3:30 in the afternoon and, like today, 8 in the morning.

"It just takes you out of your routine," head coach Ricardo Patton said of the odd schedule, which CU faces each year this time. "And then when you're trying to work on different things, or going over your scouting report, four of your guys are not there. Then the next day, two guys aren't there. So it's an interruption, for sure."

Patton is quick to add the interruption is not an excuse for any miscues that might happen on the court. And frankly, the Buffs have weathered the period from the beginning of final exams week to the beginning of conference play fairly well under Patton. CU is 33-8 during roughly that holiday time frame over the past nine seasons.

Like any other year, the games in the next three weeks will likely play a significant role in CU's postseason hopes. The Buffs, currently 5-1, have an opportunity to open Big 12 play with double digits in the win column. They've done that just twice under Patton (2000-01 and 2002-03).

A quick glance at the lineup — UC-Irvine, at TCU, Mercer, Dartmouth and Savannah State — and it looks like a lock for the Buffs to head to Texas for their conference opener Jan. 7 with a 10-1 record. But not so fast.

"Anybody can be beat on any night," said senior Martane Freeman. "We've seen that. We're preparing for (Big 12) teams, but at the same time, we're not overlooking others. We're looking at everybody as if they're on the same level."

Even in a season when some traditional Big 12 upper echelon teams (Kansas and Missouri come immediately to mind) look beatable in December, Patton has been preaching the importance of focusing on one game at a time.

The next team on CU's schedule has already played the role of giant killer. UC-Irvine knocked of then-No. 13 Stanford on the road Nov. 19. The Anteaters were down 47-17 at one point at Pepperdine, but scored 59 points in the second half, and lost by just three.

UC-Irvine leads the Big West Conference in field-goal percentage (.503), three-point field goal percentage (.436), three-point field goals made per game (8.71) and assists per game (17.29). CU hosts them Saturday night.

"We've played a really good non-conference schedule, and each team that we played has the ability to beat us," he said. "So if we look past them, that's when you're going to get beat."

A look at UC-Irvine
The Anteaters are 4-3 on the year. The record includes the big upset at Stanford (79-63 on Nov. 19), and a big disappointing loss to Division II Cal-St. Stanislaus (91-90 at home Nov. 29).

Former Denver East prepster Ross Schraeder, a 6-5 guard, leads the Anteaters with 16.7 points per game. He's hit 25-of-50 treys through seven games. Forward Darren Fells, listed at 6-7, 250 pounds, pulls down 8.1 boards a game. UC-Irvine likes to jack it up from long distance, and is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range (61-140).

Probable starters

F Chris Copeland, Sr., 6-8, 235, 15.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg
F Andy Osborn, Sr., 6-9, 225, 9.3, 4.8
G Jayson Obazuaye, Sr., 6-2, 205, 6.8, 5.3
G Richard Roby, So., 6-6, 195, 18.5, 6.3
PG Marcus Hall, Jr., 6-1, 185, 7.5, 4.3 apg

F Darren Fells, So., 6-7, 250 13.1 ppg, 8.1rpg
F Nic Campbell, Jr., 6-6, 225, 11.4, 4.1
G Ross Schraeder, Sr. 6-5, 195, 16.7, 3.3
G Aaron Fitzgerald, Sr., 6-3, 180, 13.0, 4.3 apg
G Shamar Armstrong, Sr., 6-3, 195, 5.9, 2.7

Chichester connection
UC-Irvine's athletic director is Bob Chichester. Chichester served in CU's athletic department from 1998-2002, and had the title Senior Associate Athletic Director/Administration, Academic Affairs and Olympic Sports his final two years in Boulder. Chichester, who has a doctorate degree from CU, was one of the only athletic department officials who was publicly critical of the football program's handling of issues surrounding alleged sexual assaults back in 2001 and 2002.

Surprise, so far
One of the pleasant surprises so far this season has been the improved play of senior Martane Freeman. After being named 2003-04 JC Player of the Year when he was at Penn Valley JC, Patton recruited the 6-7 swing player to be a starter on last year's Colorado team.

But Freeman hit a wall, and never cracked the lineup. He averaged less than nine minutes per game. This season, Freeman is still coming off the bench, but he seems to have found a significant role on the team. He's constantly in motion when he's on offense, and has picked up his defense and rebounding, as well. He sparked the Buffs with three steals and five boards in the win over Utah.

"In practice, nobody wants to guard me because I'm constantly running, constantly cutting," Freeman said. "I want to turn it up 10 times against opponents."

Against opponents, Freeman is averaging 6.7 points per game, and has eight steals.

"He knows if he goes out there and plays hard, Coach is going to let him play," Patton said. "So that brings about a comfort level for him. As long as he's playing hard, he's going to have a chance to play."

Kal Bay suspended for season, may seek court injunction
Colorado recruit Kal Bay was suspended for the remainder of his senior season at Marcos de Nizo High School in Tempe, Ariz., the East Valley Tribune reported Thursday.

According to the report, Bay entered the stands during the fourth quarter of a Marcos de Nizo basketball game to confront some heckling fans on Dec. 6. The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which oversees prep sports in the state, has a rule that was instilled last year that punishes a player who enters the bleachers during a game with a season-long suspension. It also bars the player's team from postseason play.

Bay's father, Kurtis Bay, told the East Valley Tribune that he supports the rule, but that he didn't think it applied in this instance because of extenuating circumstances. According to the elder Bay, Kal Bay went into the stands to confront a fan who was yelling at Bay's girlfriend and mother.

"There was no physical altercation," Kurtis Bay said. "He never cursed at anybody. He was yelling for someone to get away from his mom. This guy had his hand raised ready to hit her."

A school district official disputed the Bay's story in the newspaper account, saying Kal Bay "was clearly in violation of the rule."

Bay's attorney may seek a court injunction on the suspension.

Bay, a 6-2 point guard many consider to be the top point guard in Arizona this year, signed a letter of intent with Colorado in November. CU head coach Ricardo Patton was traveling Thursday afternoon and couldn't be reached for comment.

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