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By: Scott Arnold, ProMotion Ltd.
Coach Tad Boyle is looking for 40 minutes of consistency from the Buffs.
Brooks: Rx For Buffs' Improvement Not Complicated
Release: December 27, 2011
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
BOULDER - It's a little early (OK, by just over 24 hours) for Tad Boyle to be previewing the Pac-12 Conference and where his Colorado basketball team might fit or finish in the league's debut season.

But when the time arrives for that look ahead, don't expect Boyle's prescription for the Buffaloes to experience Pac-12 success to be any different from what he's prescribed since Game 1.

CU plays its final non-conference game Wednesday against New Orleans (7 p.m., Coors Events Center, ROOT Sports), and Boyle is hopeful that the Buffs finally will play a full game. After submitting a nice first half six days ago against Texas Southern, they apparently started their brief Christmas break in the second half before escaping with a 56-51 win that is Boyle's Exhibit A for their lack of consistency during December.

"We're still looking to put 40 minutes of basketball together," he said Tuesday. "We've been talking about it now for a couple of weeks; we've talked about it to our team and it continues to be the challenge and the No. 1 goal for this group.

"I think Andre (Roberson), Carlon (Brown) and Spencer (Dinwiddie) over the last 21/2-3 weeks have really solidified themselves as consistent performers. That doesn't mean they're going to play well every single night and not going to have some down times, but they've kind of risen a little bit."

But that's only three players out of what Boyle wants to be a nine or 10-man rotation - not nearly a good enough percentage for CU to show steady improvement as Saturday's Pac-12 opener against Utah approaches.

"I feel like Wednesday night will be a big measuring stick for us," freshman guard Askia Booker said. "Really, these next two games will show us where we are . . . I mean, we can talk so much about it and say we feel like we're getting there. But these next two will show where we really are and how consistent we really are."

Booker sat out the Texas Southern game with a stomach virus, but he practiced Tuesday and said he expects to play against New Orleans. Boyle believed Booker's energy off the bench would have helped yank the Buffs out of their second-half lethargy last week, as would the presence of freshman forward Damiene Cain.

But Cain didn't dress for Texas Southern due to concussion symptoms, and he didn't practice Tuesday. He isn't expected to play Wednesday, and Boyle was uncertain when Cain might return. Since making his debut against Fresno State on Dec. 7, Cain has played in only one other game, averaging 9.0 minutes in both outings.

Besides being consistent overall against New Orleans, which was 9-4 entering Tuesday night's game at North Texas, Boyle wants to see the Buffs "really guard" the Privateers. Their roster doesn't feature a player over 6-7, and Boyle characterizes New Orleans' lineup as "almost like five guards . . . their big guys are athletic, they put the ball on the floor and attack the basket.

"Defensively, I'd like to see us really guard, make them work for everything . . . not give up easy baskets, keep them in front of us, make them take tough shots."

If that defensive wish-list is realized, then maybe - just maybe - the Buffs (7-4) can play well enough to put an opponent away. That's been a December rarity, with the month thus far producing a seven-point win over Fresno State, an 11-point loss to Wyoming (CU blew a 10-point first-half lead), a six-point win against Cal State-Bakersfield, and the five-point win over Texas Southern.

The Buffs' inconsistencies never have been clearer than during that four-game span, and Boyle believes not allowing an opponent to creep back into a potential rout is "important for our psyche if nothing else . . . this team knows what its problem is.

"I've talked to them about it, they've talked about it publicly and privately. They know what the problem is, now they've got to go out and find a solution. The only chance we get to do that is on game night. We talk about it in practice . . . we've been a good practice team, now the challenge for us is to carry that practice performance into game performances."

The Buffs' first three Pac-12 games are at home, starting Saturday with Utah (4 p.m.). Also visiting the Events Center the following week on Thursday/Saturday will be Washington and Washington State. (Tickets, with prices starting at $10, can be purchased at CUBuffs.com/tickets or by calling 303-49-BUFFS.)

Opening conference play with three consecutive home games is a plus, but Boyle knows the back half of the schedule brings a turnabout. A home stretch in early January means a road stretch in late February. The importance of protecting the home court early is magnified.

"What it means is you're favored on the front end of the schedule, but on the back end you're going to be on the road," Boyle said. "It means you've got to make hay while the sun shines, as they say. We have take care of home court advantage. We talked about it last year going into Big 12 play - now we're talking about it in the Pac-12. It doesn't matter what conference you're in, you've got to hold serve at home and learn how to win on the road. If you do that, then you're going to put yourself in the upper half of the league and hopefully compete for conference championships."

Boyle has sneaked a peek at Utah game tape and has peripherally followed the Pac-12 through non-conference play. He sees the league and his team sharing an unwanted characteristic - inconsistency.

"Absolutely," he said. But like with his team, he added, "the potential is there. The unfortunate thing is not having a second chance at non-conference teams; we don't get CSU (65-64 loss) or Wyoming over. Those games are gone. I'm sure every other team in our league has two or three they feel same way about."

But once conference play begins, he believes it "is wide open . . . and that's exciting. We talked about it with our group; we just have to continue to improve. That's why these next three weeks are critical for our development. It's an important time."

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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