In the schools' first meeting since CU changed conferences, the Buffaloes venture to Kansas on Saturday to face the No. 9 Jayhawks (noon MST, ESPN2). If CU coach Tad Boyle, a former KU player (1981-85), is familiar with "The Legend of The Phog," most of his players will need a briefing.
Boyle calls 16,300-seat Allen Fieldhouse "a special place," and after Wednesday night's intense 70-61 win against Colorado State, he's eager to see if the Buffs can accomplish something special at his alma mater. It's been a while since that happened for CU - try Feb. 10, 1983, or when Boyle was a KU sophomore. The Buffs won 75-74, and since then they've been beaten in 28 straight trips to the Heartland.
CU junior forward Andre Roberson, one of only a couple of Buffs upperclassmen who have played on KU's home court, remembers the Allen Fieldhouse environment: "It's going to be a tough atmosphere, just like Colorado. They really feed off their crowd, just like us . . . when they get rocking and rolling they're hard to stop, especially in their building. I don't know what it is when you go in there, but it's just a tough place to play. Everybody's screaming consistently . . . it's a great place to play."
Sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie has been to Allen Fieldhouse, but has not sampled the game-day ambience. As a high schooler, he participated in an elite camp there on what he called "kind of an unofficial visit" to KU. "So I'm familiar with it, but I've never actually been there for a game and I've only heard stories. I've heard it's amazing. I excited for the atmosphere."
Most of the Buffs will get their first peek at the legendary venue late Friday afternoon at a shoot-around. They are scheduled to leave the Coors Events Center by bus at 4:15 p.m., fly by charter to Lawrence, and upon landing go directly to the arena.
Dinwiddie has been on a tear for the past three games (25.2 average) and appears to be gaining confidence by the minute. After scoring a career-high 29 points against CSU, he said, "I think every basketball player believes nobody can stop him. So do I think (the Jayhawks) can? No. If they do, that's a great night for them. But I think I'm going to go out there and do my thing."
He has done some modest research on the Buffs-Jayhawks series, which KU has dominated 122-39, including 61-7 in Lawrence. In the Buffs' pre-Boyle era, the Coors Events Center was populated by as many KU as CU fans. Stories of those days have trickled down to Dinwiddie.
"I've heard historically that they called (the Events Center) Allen Fieldhouse West," he said. "I heard how they would invade our arena and make it a tough place for us to play in our own stadium. So even though I wasn't a part of that, I take offense to it because this is my school.
"I know we're not going to outnumber them at their spot. I mean, it's a historic venue. But I want that support to be shown and for the (CU) program to continue to gain traction on a national level and for everyone to see we have a fan base that is willing to travel and support us like all the other schools that are doing good things with their programs."
Wednesday night's boisterous record crowd of 11,708 at the Events Center created a decided home advantage for the Buffs, who needed every edge available in holding off the Rams in the final 6 minutes. Trailing by 20 points at halftime, CSU trimmed CU's lead to three before the Buffs righted themselves, ratcheted up their defense and won for the seventh time in eight games.
KU also has been beaten once (6-1), losing to Michigan State 67-64 in mid-November in the CBE Classic. The Jayhawks feature four players in double figures, topped by 6-5 redshirt freshman Ben McLemore's 14.9 point average. The other three top scorers are seniors: 7-0 center Jeff Withey (14.6 points, 8.1 rebounds), 6-6 Travis Releford (13.1) and 6-4 Elijah Johnson (10.0). KU has outrebounded its opponents by an average of 37.7 to 34.1 this season and has held them to 58.9 points a game on 35.3 percent field goal shooting.
Historically, the Jayhawks haven't lost often at home, and that trend has continued under coach Bill Self. Now in his 10th season, Self is 148-7 in Allen Fieldhouse, with his most recent loss coming on Jan. 22, 2011 against Texas (74-63). KU was 16-0 at home last season and is 3-0 at home this season. The Jayhawks' 25-game home court winning streak is tied for the longest in the nation.
Boyle went into the season knowing he would be utilizing most of his young players, although two of his six-member freshman class are redshirting. In a perfect non-conference season, he says he would have been able to begin developing more depth.
A tougher overall schedule has prevented that, and the one opponent - one-win Texas Southern - that appeared to be a patsy took the Buffs to double overtime. So much for clearing his bench in that one . . .
"I feel bad because I want to develop our depth more than able to right now . . . it's frustrating," he said. "Depth is going to be a strength of this team before it's all said and done. Right now it might not be."
If possible, Boyle wants to reduce the minutes logged by Dinwiddie, Roberson and Askia Booker. Against CSU, Roberson was at 37 minutes, Dinwiddie at 36 and Booker at 33. "I'm playing Spencer, 'Ski' and Andre too many minutes," Boyle said. "I want to cut that down, but in big games, those guys are going to have to play."
That means on Saturday, that trio's minutes aren't likely to decline. Booker, the tournament MVP in CU's run to the Charleston Classic title, has scored six points - season lows - in each of the past two games. Still, against the Rams, Boyle said Booker didn't allow his offensive woes to contaminate his overall game as he did in the 76-69 loss last weekend at Wyoming.
"He defended (CSU guard) Dorian Green very well," Boyle said. "He got over screens and pressured him . . . that's progress. We all know he's a good shooter. He'll be fine. As long as it doesn't affect the other end, he'll be OK."
Boyle, who is 0-3 against KU, is intrigued by how his team will respond Saturday. "It'll be interesting to see," he said. "Allen Fieldhouse is a pretty special place and our guys will be dialed in. The thing I like about our team is that they're pretty competitive and they like challenges.
"But it's going to make Wyoming look like a cakewalk in terms of the atmosphere, the number of people and the decibel level. We're going to have to grow up . . . Kansas is Top Ten (No. 9) and they're a good basketball team, a good program. It's a big opportunity."