The Colorado Buffaloes and second year head coach Tad Boyle sit at a crossroads heading into tonight's game against the Wildcats in Tucson, Arizona. Win a road game against a high-quality opponent for the first time since beating Kansas State in January of 2011 and the Buffs will no longer be ignored as a legitimate threat to win the Pac-12 regular season. That win, combined with a home win for Oregon over Washington tonight would leave the Buffaloes tied with the Huskies and Golden Bears for first place, with the tie-breaker with UW and a home game against California that would even the slate. A win would give the NCAA Tournament Committee the validation that they need to consider Colorado as one of the two or (hopefully) three teams that head to the tourney from the Pac-12 conference. A win would announce that this team isn't just building for the future, it's built for the now.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves (as if I haven't already). A loss does not taint this year's progress. Win or lose, the next two games, on the road against Arizona State and Utah are absolute must wins for this team and getting both may actually be more important to the teams tournament chances. No matter what happens tonight, the Buffaloes still have a 4-game gauntlet to close the regular season, home games with Stanford and Cal before hitting the road to take on both Oregon schools.
Just under 15,000 Arizona fans are expected to fill the McKale Center tonight, every single one of them wanting revenge for Colorado's 64-63 last second win in Boulder in January. Since that game, the Wildcats have won three of four, losing at home to Washington, but stealing two wins in Northern California over Cal and Stanford. That stretch has Zona sitting two games out of first in the conference and only a game behind the Buffs. In the victories over Cal and Stanford, the Cats were lead by guard Kyle Fogg and and forward Jesse Perry, who have stepped up their games of late, helping to fill the void of Kevin Parrom's season ending injury. In the first game between these two teams Fogg and Perry both were effective against the Buffs defense. Fogg finished with 16 points and Perry added 20 points on top of 10 rebounds. The Wildcats were ultimately done in by Parrom's 3-point miss with seconds to play, but Sean Miller's mismanagement of timeouts left the Wildcats with no chance to set-up a final play.
In order for the Buffaloes to have a chance to take this one in Tucson, Andre Roberson must play significantly better than he did in Boulder. The Buffs didn't get a single point from Roberson, who was visually frustrated with his inability to convert in the second half. His seven rebounds were his third lowest of the season and was the main reason that the Wildcats were able to out-rebound the Buffs 38-32, something that very rarely happens at the Coors Event Center. All three guards will need to be on the top of their games tonight, Carlon Brown has to be able to create his own shots and freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, who's performances have been rapidly improving, will need to continue to produce in the most hostile environment that they will have played in to date.
Let's go Buffs.