‘Tis the Season, so forgive CU head coach Ricardo Patton if he was a little bit short with reporters following the Buffs' decisive win over Dartmouth. Then again, this is the season — just before the beginning of conference play — when Patton usually gets a bit testy. Knowing what challenges wait around the corner can do that.
As for Saturday's game, the biggest challenge the Buffs faced was getting back into a rhythm after the holiday break. It's not that the Buffs looked bad beating an out-manned Ivy League school. It's that they didn't look spectacular like they did Dec. 22 in their 43-point victory over Mercer.
CU struggled from the foul line (12 of 21, 57 percent), and shot below their 37.4 percent season average from beyond the arc (5 of 16, 32 percent). And the Buffs gave up 19 turnovers, the second most in a game this season.
They made up for the sometimes sloppy play by pounding the boards, out-rebounding Dartmouth 48-35. Add 12 steals and CU had plenty of opportunities to put points on the scoreboard. CU hit 52 percent of its shots and four players scored in double figures, led by Freeman, who tied his crareer-high with 17.
The win moved CU to 9-1 on the season. It came at the expense of former CU assistant Terry Dunn, who is in his second season as head coach of the Big Green. CU senior Chris Copeland credited his former mentor.
"Coach Dunn had them really ready," Copeland said. "They came out strong and played hard. They made a lot of shots early and fought us well. So, definitely, Coach Dunn prepared them and that was good to see."
Colorado jumped out to a 16-6 lead at the 15 minute mark. When sophomore Richard Roby stepped in front of a pass and made one of his game-high four steals, then raced the court for a one-handed throw-down with less than a minute to play in the half, it put the Buffs ahead by 19.
Dartmouth, who never led, closed the gap to within 10 points near the 10-minute mark of the second. But CU went on an 8-0 run, sparked by another Roby steal and feed to Martane Freeman for a dunk. Dartmouth never threatened after that.
Patton said he didn't spend the game thinking about who was sitting on the bench to his right, referring to Dunn, who coached under Patton for eight seasons.
"When you are coaching you are not so much concerned with the next guy on the bench as you are with the players," he said. "I knew (Coach Dunn) would have his team prepared for the game and he did. They are well coached and I expected that."
The question remains: Will scheduling lightweights Mercer, Dartmouth and Savannah State — who are a combined 3-29 through Dec. 31 — down the stretch have prepared the Buffs for their Big 12 opener at Texas? If you run into Coach Patton, don't bring up the query unless you're prepared for some tough stares.
"We're not too concerned with it," he said Saturday when a reporter asked. "I think you guys make a bigger deal out of it than we do."
Some of the CU players were in a better mood to address their play and what they need to do with the Big 12 schedule looming after Saturday's win. Even with woeful Savannah State (1-13) set for tip-off at Coors Tuesday, the Buffs can't help but be thinking about the Jan. 7 game at Texas, the team many picked to win the Big 12 this season.
"I'm sure the next few practices we'll have that reminder that we need to pick it up," said junior Marcus Hall.
Julius Ashby struggled in the first half, missing some easy shots near the bucket and getting lost in the offensive sets. The senior, who missed the team's first eight games with an academic suspension, played better in the second half. He ended with six points and five boards. Ashby's game is suffering mostly because he missed so much practice time during his suspension (he only practiced once a week until December).
"He is still getting into his game shape and timing," Patton said. "I don't know how long it will take him to do that, now that we have shorter conditioning time between games. I think it will all fall into place when it does."
One thing is clear: Ashby plays above the rim more than any other Buffalo. Once he gets his timing, his presence could be a huge help against certain post players Colorado will face in the next two months.
Points: Martane Freeman 17
Rebounds: Freeman 9
Assists: Marcus Hall 4
Turnovers: three tied with 3
Blocks: Freeman 2
Steals: Richard Roby 4
Points: Devon Mosley, Calvin Arnold 11
Rebounds: Chuck Flynn 7
Assists: three tied with 2
Turnovers: Arnold 4
Blocks: Flynn 1
Steals: Leon Pattman, Mosley 2
Colorado has now won eight straight games, its longest streak since the 1996-97 season. The Buffs have won 15-consecutive non-conference games at home since Jan. 8, 2004. …Marcus hall moved into a tie for 17th with Michael Lee on the school's all-time assists list (213).
Attendence continues to lag
Several brainstorming meetings by athletic department marketing personnel prior to the season have failed to create more fans in the seats at Coors so far. Saturday's crowd of 2,534 was the second-highest number this season (3,268 showed up for the Nov. 18 UNCW game).
Colorado plays an entertaining brand of ball and leads the Big 12 in scoring through nine games. But the Buffs are dead last in home attendance, averaging just 2,145. Those numbers will rise soon with the onset of conference play. Still, bringing in under 2,200 heads a game in non-conference games is nothing short of embarrassing.