On Monday morning at practice, Tad Boyle told his team that this was a week of separation in the Pac-12. Entering Wednesday, six teams in the conference, including the Buffs, were tied with a conference record of 4-3. CU got a chance to play one of the other five teams they were tied with tonight, as the Stanford Cardinal paid a visit to Coors Events Center. The Buffs made a statement, leading the entire way en route to a convincing conference win.
Josh Fortune came out and hit three three-pointers early for the Buffs, which set the tone for the entire game. George King soon joined Fortune by hitting three consecutive threes of his own, which brought the crowd of 8,001 to their feet and forced Stanford to call a timeout with 11:06 remaining in the half and the Buffs leading 24-11.
The Buffs kept their foot on the gas for most of the first half, leading by as many as seventeen before taking a 42-28 lead in the locker room backed by eight made three pointers on 13 attempts.
Anyone thinking the Buffs would cool off in the second half would have seen them make five of six threes they attempted the rest of the way, finishing the game shooting a staggering 68 percent (13-19) from three. It was the team's best performance from beyond the arc this season, and it made up for the fact that their inside game wasn't as dominant as it usually is. The Buffs were outscored 24-22 in points in the paint, and shot an abysmal 14-of-36 (39%) from inside the arc. Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon were solid, but not quite the force they have been. Tonight it didn't matter.
Despite some tense moments in the middle of the second half, Stanford never got the lead down to single digits, and the Buffs were able to coast to a sixteen point win that wasn't even quite that close. The famed "Larry Bird Squad" of walk-ons was even able to come on for the final 90 seconds of the game.
Here are 3 things we learned tonight:
1. When Josh Fortune and George King are both hot, the Buffs are almost unbeatable
The Buffs' two biggest additions this season had their best combined performance of the year tonight, scoring 44 points between them on 14-for-18 shooting, including an almost unfathomable 10-for-12 from three point range. We've seen this kind of potential from both players all along, and they've gone off separately at times this year, but this was the first time they demonstrated their full capabilities as a tandem. It was impressive to watch, and a hot shooting performance like that from them could lift CU to a win over a superior team in the NCAA tournament.
2. Even when he's "not himself", Josh Scott is great
According to Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle, Josh Scott hasn't been feeling well lately. It was somewhat evident tonight, as he appeared to be slightly off his game; particularly in the first half when he failed to make a field goal. Still, he finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks. That would be a breakout game for a lot of people, but for Scott it was just another day at the office, and a subpar one at that. He truly is one of the best big men in America and it will be difficult to replace him once he graduates.
3. The Buffs can learn from their mistakes
CU had a 23 point lead on Stanford early in the second half when the Cardinal went on a 13-0 run to cut the lead to just ten. There was a lot of nervous energy in the building as what had appeared to be an easy win had gotten too close for comfort. Tad Boyle called timeout. In the postgame press conference, Boyle said he told his team "get stops, make your dang free throws, and take care of the basketball." The Buffs responded by putting up a 10-0 run of their own, led by Dominique Collier, which brought the lead back to 20. Stanford didn't seriously threaten again.
The Buffs take on Cal at 3pm on Sunday afternoon at Coors Events Center. It'll be another huge game for the team in their bid to enter the upper ranks of the Pac-12. If CU can shoot anything like they did tonight, I like their chances.