When the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team takes the floor to battle the top-ranked team in the nation, it will be the fourth and final Kansas-Colorado match-up in Boulder for senior guard Dwight Thorne II.
Thorne, as well as the rest of his teammates, said he thinks this game might be different than ones in years past.
“I think maybe for the first time we might actually have more fans here for us,” Thorne said, smiling ear to ear.
Kansas (20-1, 6-0 Big 12) has yet to be conquered in the conference this season, and boasts impressive wins over Missouri (16-5) and no. 20 Baylor (16-4), both of them probably national tournament-bound.
And as for the players on the floor, the Jayhawks may have the deepest team in the country.
For starters the team has not one, but two preseason All-Americans in senior guard Sherron Collins (15.5 points per game) and junior center Cole Aldrich (11.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game). That inside-outside combination, coupled with the Morris brothers (starter Marcus and reserve Markieff), high-flying freshman sensation Xavier Henry (second on the team with 13.7 points per game) and the sharpshooting Tyrel Reed make up a difficult defense.
For CU head coach Jeff Bzdelik, it starts down low in the paint.
“You got to make [Aldrich] take contested shots and jump shots and not dunks or power moves where he shoots a high percentage,” Bzdelik said.
Thorne said it would also come down to controlling parts of Jayhawks offense.
“The guys inside are going to be the main focus on offense,” Thorne added. “If they’re clicking, it makes the outside game easier, so they’ll probably try to get the ball to Sherron. We just have to try and control either of those aspects of the game.”
For junior guard Cory Higgins, the task of stopping a KU attack that averages almost 85 points per game can’t be pinpointed on one player or another.
“They are a pretty balanced team,” Higgins said. “You just have to be solid and not key in on this guy or that guy because all of them can hurt you.”
Yet the Jayhawks are still human. They lost to a Tennessee team that was without forward Tyler Smith, one of their best players, due to a suspension. They squeaked out an 81-79 overtime victory over Kansas State this past weekend. They also had down-to-the wire finishes with Memphis, Baylor and Cornell, the first of which was at a neutral site and the latter two being at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
Add that to the fact that the Buffs are an impressive 10-1 at home and are already battle-tested in the Big 12 with games against No. 9 Texas, No. 10 Kansas State and No. 20 Baylor.
The “Rock Chalk” faithful may not be able to etch the outcome in stone just yet.
“It’s not about them, it’s about us,” Higgins said. “We’ve got to run our stuff, stay aggressive and not be psyched out by the name on the jersey. We’ve got to play like the players that we are.”
Perhaps the biggest x-factor on the Colorado sidelines is the status of guard Alec Burks, who sprained his knee in the first few minutes of the team’s loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Burks was donning a brace at Tuesday’s practice, and according to Bzdelik, he will be a game-time decision.
“It feels good to me,” Burks said, with no real signs of a hobble as he moved. “It’s a pretty big brace, and I hope it doesn’t hinder me, but no matter what I’m going to play through it.”
He might have to if the Buffaloes hope to conquer Kansas for the first time since Jan. 22, 2003. On that Wednesday night Colorado beat the then sixth-ranked Jayhawks 60-59 to snap a 27-game losing streak against KU. CU’s Stephane Pelle (27 points) and David Harrison (11 rebounds) outdueled current NBA players Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison to shock the “Rock Chalk” faithful.
A semi-healthy Burks and a sellout crowd might be just the recipe for that to happen again.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer David Starcer at firstname.lastname@example.org