Talking to senior guard Dwight Thorne II, one would expect Thorne’s recent demotion to the bench would be his main motivation to step his game up. But Thorne has another reason to be fired up heading into his final stretch as a collegiate player.
“To get to the postseason, hopefully the NCAA tournament,” Thorne said. “That’s the goal for this year.”
To reach that goal, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team are going to have to make some noise in Big 12 Conference play, and after their 103-86 loss at Texas on Saturday, they will have to rebound against the No. 22 Baylor Bears at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Coors Events Center. And by rebound, that’s both figuratively and literally.
“[Baylor] presents a huge challenge for us in every sense of the word,” head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “They’re very long and very athletic.”
The longest player in their frontcourt rotation is junior center Ekpe Udoh, who’s averaging 14.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game this season.
At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Udoh and the rest of the Bears’ lanky frontcourt will prove a different challenge for CU’s big men than Texas’ 6-foot-10, 290-pound Dexter Pittman, possessing athleticism to go along with sturdiness down low.
On the offensive side of things, it could be Thorne who proves to be a deciding factor on the team’s success for the rest of the season.
After finishing second on the team in scoring last year behind junior Cory Higgins, Thorne’s average has slipped to 8.4 points per game. The emergence of new players such as freshman Alec Burks (16.6 ppg and 5.1 rpg) and junior Marcus Relphorde (24 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Texas) has affected his playing time. After a road loss at rival Colorado State, Bzdelik moved Thorne to his current sixth man role.
“Coach told me he wanted me to come off the bench and add more spark (to the team),” Thorne said. “I’m fine with it but I haven’t fit my role to the best of my ability. I still have to shoot better (from the outside) and play good defense to be that spark for this team.”
Although Thorne may not be totally pleased with his own performance, his coach appreciates the personal sacrifices Thorne is making to make the team better.
“It’s a great testimony to his character to come in off the bench and perform like he has,” Bzdelik said. “He’s accepted it well. It’s a credit to who he is as a person, he’s about the team. As a senior, I know what to expect from him, and he’s given us a big lift.”
A Texas native himself, Thorne got plenty of exposure to the big basketball programs in the state when he was being recruited.
TCU, Texas Tech and Texas A&M all showed interest in the 6-foot-3 guard from Arlington, but it was former CU coach Ricardo Patton who ultimately reeled in Thorne to come to Boulder. Baylor was one of the few schools in the region who didn’t seek Thorne, and the reason had nothing to do with Thorne’s play in high school.
Baylor signed guard Tweety Carter, who is the all-time scoring leader in the history of American high school basketball. Carter, a senior, also happened to be in Thorne’s recruiting class.
“So they probably didn’t need me,” Thorne said. “But Tweety’s my friend, my buddy. We’ve played against each other and I’m looking forward to playing him again.”
Thorne will get his chance to guard Carter, who’s averaging 16.5 ppg, including three straight 27-point outbursts during the Bears’ nonconference slate.
Whether Thorne and company reach the ultimate goal of postseason play starts with this game, and what better springboard for a Cinderella run than a victory over a Top 25 opponent in front of a home crowd.
When asked how much that goal meant to him and the Colorado program, Thorne mentioned his cousin, former Texas A&M guard and current NBA player Acie Law IV.
“He played in the tourney a few times and he said there’s nothing like it, it would be a dream come true,” Thorne said. “You watch your favorite players growing up, you watch your favorite teams, you want to be a part of college basketball, and when you get there, you want to win a national championship. So if we get there, anything is possible.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer David Starcer at David.firstname.lastname@example.org.