No moral victories for Buffs

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- The Buffs might have to swim home if they don't win their final game here. Associate head coach Steve McClain believes close isn't good enough at Colorado anymore.

CU's 91-87 overtime loss to Arizona on Tuesday -- which came on the heels of a 76-72 loss to Gonzaga in the EA Sports Maui Invitational opener -- may have impressed college basketball fans who don't know anything about Jeff Bzdelik's young program.

But McClain is tired of watching moral victories from the bench, which he is still running while Bzdelik attends to his ailing mother in Chicago.

"I'm proud of these guys, but I also told them this: Losing is not acceptable," McClain said. "In this program for too long it has been. I think this group understands it's not. And that's why we'll keep getting better."

Nine more points and perhaps the Buffs could have been the surprise team playing for the Maui Invitational title. Instead, CU will attempt to avoid a humiliating loss to host Chaminade, a Division II program, today in the tournament's last-place game.

"If I have to get your spirits up then you shouldn't be doing this. It's another opportunity to play the game," McClain said when asked if he was worried about a let down following two close losses to big-name programs. "We flew clear across the country to play three games. If that doesn't excite you then don't come."

Cory Higgins scored 22 of his 28 points after the intermission, including two made free throws that forced overtime. An even better performance by Arizona All-American Nick Wise is the main reason why the Buffs were unable to pull off the victory.

"Great player," Wise said of Higgins. "Before watching film on him I never really heard too much about him. He's an All-Big 12 player and that says enough about him because it's a great conference."

Wise scored 30 points and willed Arizona to the victory in overtime. He was 9-for-15 from the field, 5-for-9 from behind the arc and 7-for-8 at the line with six assists, four rebounds and only two turnovers in 32 minutes.

"He's a great player and it's fun to go against one of the best guards in the Pac-10," Higgins said. "I'd like to think I'm among those elite guards, too."

After the Wildcats took an 80-72 lead in the final minute, Nate Tomlinson and Higgins each hit 3-pointers to bring CU to within two points with 24.1 second remaining.

McClain called a quick timeout to set his defense, and Austin Dufault was able to steal the in-bounds pass. Higgins then drew a foul and tied the game at the stripe.

"We just kept believing," Tomlinson said. "It's a tough thing to keep taking losses like this, but we're a tight group and we're just going to keep believing in each other. That's what we did and we got it into overtime and had a chance."

The Buffs (3-2) extended the run to 11-0 and led 83-80 in overtime after a 3-pointer by Tomlinson. But Wise -- who scored 14 of his team's next 16 points after the score was tied 72-72 with three minutes left in regulation -- scored seven quick points to give his team a 90-85 advantage with 33.1 seconds left.

Higgins cut the deficit to three points with 18.8 seconds remaining, but a Brendon Lavender free throw iced the game for the Wildcats.

"The team that finishes the game wins the game," Sean Miller, Arizona's very relieved head coach, said. "We were able to stick with it and battle through."

Tomlinson had 20 points off the bench on 7-for-9 shooting. Dufault scored 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in 29 minutes for his first career double-double. Alec Burks added 19 points and has 84 points through his first five collegiate games, the most by a CU freshman since Chauncey Billups scored 121 through his first five games in the 1995-96 season.

"We really won everything but the game," McClain said. "You look at the stats and we out-rebounded them. We did what we had to do but we just couldn't win the game."

Chaminade lost to Maryland (79-51) in the opener and to Vanderbilt (68-41) on Tuesday.

"Somehow we've got to find a way to win that game," McClain said. "And we're going to."


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