Sooners Pose Big Challenge, Big Opportunity

With the Colorado Buffaloes delicately perched on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament, by many prognosticators' estimation, a win over No. 19 Oklahoma would look very good on Colorado's résumé. The Sooners have played well of late, bolstered by one of the league's best pair of inside players.

Oklahoma has slowly been putting together yet another good season after starting out 9-4. Since then, Kelvin Sampson's squad has won seven of eight games, its only loss a one-point defeat at Kansas on Feb. 5.

Colorado coach Ricardo Patton isn't surprised by OU's surge over the past six weeks, one that has them at 16-5, and in third place in the Big 12 race with a 7-3 conference mark, one game ahead of CU. Senior forward Taj Gray is healthy after suffering some back problems early in the year, and leads OU with 14.3 points and 7.9 boards a game.

"They've always played extremely physical," Patton said. "Anytime you have arguably two of the best post players in the league — particularly in combination — you've got a chance to win a lot of ballgames."

Patton is referring to Gray and fellow senior, 6-8, 270-pound Kevin Bookout. Both Bookout and Gray blasted the Buffs last year in Norman during OU's win over Colorado with double-doubles. Bookout had 27 points, 11 rebounds, Gray scored 19 and also collected 11 boards.

Asked how he planned to combat the duo, Patton joked, "Pray. I'm going to start there."

Along with divine intervention, he said he wants his players "to compete. It's going to be a physically played basketball game. We just have to bow our backs and be ready to respond to that."

The players are well aware of the opportunity in front of them. Wednesday night's game, which is being broadcast nationally on ESPN2, is probably the best chance to knock off a ranked opponent the remainder of the season, something CU hasn't done since beating then No. 22/23 Texas last season. OU is currently No. 19 in both polls. They have a 14 RPI ( as of Tuesday afternoon. Colorado has an RPI of 49.

"It's a game the NCAA will look at when (they choose) teams to go to the tournament," sophomore guard Richard Roby said. "We know as a team this is a huge game for us. It's kind of like a playoff game for us — national TV, if we win this we go ahead of them in the (standings)."

But Patton tried to downplay the importance of the matchup.

"I don't know that this one single game should define our entire season," he said.

After tipoff, which is set for 7:30 p.m. MT, sophomore Marcus King-Stockton will match up with the beefy Bookout, unless Patton changes his mind prior to the game. On Tuesday, Patton said he'd go with the same starting lineup that defeated Texas Tech Saturday, which included King-Stockton in the middle, along with forwards Chris Copeland and Andy Osborn, and guards Richard Roby and Marcus Hall.

Inserting King-Stockton into the lineup was for a couple of reasons. One, Patton said he knows what he's getting with the 6-8 sophomore. Two, bringing center Julius Ashby off the bench may be better for Ashby at this point.

"It's more to help him as opposed to having him play under more pressure to perform (well) like he did in last year's tournament," Patton said of Ashby.

Ashby may yet prove to be the wildcard over the next three weeks. The senior hasn't regained the form he displayed late last season, after missing the first half of this season with academic issues. Patton said Ashby has shown the ability to really affect a game in flashes, but he needs to find consistency. Ashby is averaging 4.4 points and 4.9 rebounds.

The game with Oklahoma would be perfect timing for Ashby to have a breakout performance.

"He has the size and strength to match up with those (OU) guys on the interior," Patton said. "Does he have the experience? I'm not quite sure."

Coleman back on the court
Junior point guard Dominique Coleman missed the past two games with a heel injury, but he's practiced the past two sessions. Patton said before Tuesday's practice, though, he still didn't know if Coleman would be healthy enough to play Wednesday.

Trends, Part I
No team in the conference has shot (492) or made (189) as many 3-pointers as Colorado this season. The Buffs, who average nine treys a game, are second in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (38.4).

Patton hasn't been surprised by CU's success at shooting the three this season, but he said, "It's not a conscious effort on our part to say we're going to go out and shoot X amount of threes. If that opens itself up and those guys that have shown the ability to make threes are open, then we're going to take that shot."

Those guys include Richard Roby (52 treys), Andy Osborn (43), Chris Copeland (35), Marcus Hall (28) and Martane Freeman (10).

At their current pace, CU will break last season's school record for 3-pointers made, 223.

Trends, Part II
Some sloppy play has led to 61 CU turnovers in the past three games, the worst stretch of the season. Patton indicated the good news is that it's been sloppy play, not necessarily the other team that has caused the turnovers. In other words, it's a fixable issue.

"It's just a matter of staying focused and not trying to make home-run plays," Patton said.

Overall, the Buffs have taken care of the ball fairly well this season. Ten games, Colorado has committed 12 turnovers or fewer, and the team is averaging 14.6 per game.

Trends, Part III
Roby committed an uncharacteristically high six turnovers in the win over Texas Tech. They included some (in this writer's mind) questionable traveling calls and, for the second straight game, a questionable whistle for carrying, or palming the ball. In the loss to Texas A&M, Roby had a breakaway layup that would have impacted the game greatly taken away when he was called for carrying.

Roby said Tuesday he isn't focusing on the issue.

"If I start thinking about things like that it's going to affect the way I play and my aggressiveness," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and play my game, keep doing what I do."

Meanwhile, Patton said the Buffs haven't yet heard from the league office after sending it a tape of the 61-58 loss at Texas A&M with concerns regarding the officiating. Along with the palming call, Roby got a one-and-one shot, rather than two free throws with under two seconds to play and down by one point, when he was fouled on what appeared to be a shooting attempt.

Roby missed the front end of the bonus, and the Buffs lost the game.

Roby said he thinks more about the missed free throw than the carrying call.

The guard bounced back the following game with a double-double – 17 points and 15 rebounds. He hopes to continue that trend Wednesday against the big inside players that Oklahoma has.

"I'm going to go down there (in the paint) an battle and hopefully pull out another double-double," he said. "It's going to take a team effort on the boards and defensively."

Probable starters

F Chris Copeland, Sr., 6-8, 12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg
F Andy Osborn, Sr., 6-9, 8.9, 4.0
C Marcus King-Stockton, So., 1.7, 3.3
G Richard Roby, So., 6-6, 18.2, 5.7
G Marcus Hall, Jr., 6-1, 9.7, 4.0 apg

F Taj Gray, Sr., 6-9, 14.3, 7.9 rpg
F Kevin Bookout, Sr., 6-8, 11.8, 7.2
G Terrell Everett, Sr., 6-4, 12.2, 6.4 apg
G David Godbold, So., 6-5, 5.8, 1.4
G Austin Johnson, Fr., 6-3, 3.4, 1.8

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