Credit Jeff Bzdelik for trying to send a message early. The third-year coach knows Colorado must exert more energy than opponents to have any chance in the Big 12 after winning just one conference game last season.
So, after a disappointing 15-point defeat against in-state rival Colorado State, Bzdelik pleaded with the Buffs to come out with more intensity after a 12-day break between games.
They obliged, slamming Cal State Northridge 92-58 on Dec. 22 to improve to 7-4. The Buffs shot 56.1 percent from the field, and more important to Bzdelik, limited the Matadors to 32.7 percent.
Bzdelik shook up his lineup ever so slightly, inserting Nate Tomlinson into the backcourt as a replacement for Dwight Thorne. The move seemed to inspire Thorne, who led the Buffs with 19 points off the bench in 18 minutes.
"We've had some very intense practices," Bzdelik said. "Every day we mixed up the players, and the players played with an edge once we got through our final exams and just played basketball. We had three consecutive 3 1/2-hour workouts. We really went after each other."
The holiday break is always a time college coaches love because they can work their teams over longer periods without any concerns over classes or exams. Bzdelik must try to get the most out of the practices given the Buffs' failure to completely capitalize on a strong showing in the Maui Invitational, where they played for seventh place but played close games against Gonzaga and Arizona.
Offensive execution is something the Buffs will try to fine-tune over the closing stretch of nonconference play, which includes a difficult test at Tulsa on Jan. 2.
--Through a 7-4 start, Colorado had shot 50 percent or better in both halves of five games. It won four of the matchups, with the only defeat coming against Gonzaga in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
--Colorado established a season high in point differential by building its lead to 35 points in the Dec. 22 win against Cal State Northridge. Its biggest lead prior to that rout was 30 points against Colorado College.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Colorado gets one more chance to end a lengthy road skid before Big 12 play when it travels to Tulsa on Jan. 2. The Buffs have lost 20 straight road games against Division I opponents, with Oregon State and Colorado State extending the streak thus far this season. A trip to Texas looms as a difficult start to the Big 12 schedule on Jan. 9, but home games in January against Baylor, Kansas State and Nebraska give Colorado a chance to win a conference game and not be overwhelmed by memories of its 1-15 run through the league last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just need to continue to share the ball and play with high energy and totally sell out to one another." -- Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Colorado showed considerable promise at the Maui Invitational when it played Gonzaga to the wire and Arizona to overtime before settling for seventh place. However, the inability to win on the road at Oregon State or Colorado State prevented the Buffaloes from gaining the momentum needed to shake off their longstanding reputation as Big 12 doormat. Winning on the road would be a huge boost. Until then, third-year coach Jeff Bzdelik will continue to stress the need for intensity and try to get everything out of the Buffs, who figure to be competitive in the conference, though they may not escape the cellar.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Austin Dufault, F Marcus Relphorde, G Alec Burks, G Cory Higgins, G Dwight Thorne. Key Subs -- G Nate Tomlinson, F Shane Harris-Tunks, F Keegan Hornbuckle, G Levi Knutson.
Oregon State 74, Colorado 69
Colorado 84, Colorado Christian 65
Colorado State 77, Colorado 62
vs. Yale, Tuesday, Dec. 29
at Tulsa, Saturday, Jan. 2
vs. Miami (Ohio), Tuesday, Jan. 5
at Texas, Saturday, Jan. 9
vs. Baylor, Tuesday, Jan. 12
IN FOCUS: The game at Tulsa looms large for the Buffaloes because it presents an opportunity to end a 20-game road losing streak against Division I opponents. Tulsa will have 10 days off while heeling from a 99-68 loss to Nevada in the consolation game of the Las Vegas Classic. The defeat was the worst for the Golden Hurricane since 2005 and dropped Tulsa to 9-3. C Jerome Jordan still managed a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and he figures to be a load for Colorado unless reserve F Shane Harris-Tunks can provide a counterpunch as a 6-foot-11, 225-pound freshman off the bench.
--G Dwight Thorne came off the bench to net a game-high 19 points against Cal State Northridge. He was 6-for-10 from the field.
--G Cory Higgins distributed a career-high eight assists against Cal State Northridge. He also became the 26th player in Colorado history to surpass the 1,000-point mark.
--G Alec Burks scored in double figures in each of the Buffs' first 11 games, shooting 50 percent or better in five of six games, ending with the win against Cal State Northridge.