BOULDER - 'Tis the season . . .
On a name-your-score night for the Colorado Buffaloes, coach Tad Boyle was more impressed by his team's willingness to share than its point total.
Oh, CU's points - 98 of them - were impressive, especially considering overmatched Northern Arizona managed only 51 on Friday night at the Coors Events Center.
But by halftime, Boyle's Buffaloes had dished out 13 assists, tying their full-game season high. Sharing the ball more effectively has been on Boyle's mind for a couple of months, and Friday night his team offered him an early Christmas present - 24 assists.
"We played unselfish . . . we made the extra pass and it was contagious on our team," a beaming Boyle said. "It's a great way to go into Christmas break . . . a great team victory."
On the switches-and-ashes side, the Buffs also committed 16 turnovers. Yet at halftime, when they were up 57-21, their assist-to-turnover ratio was a sparkling 13-to-5, so Boyle couldn't leave the building overwrought about second-half ball handling that he termed "just a little careless."
He used all 12 of his players and 11 of them scored - five reaching double figures. Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson each had 17, with Spencer Dinwiddie adding 15, Josh Scott 11 and Andre Roberson 10. Reserves Ben Mills and Beau Gamble got in the game late and scored their first points of the season.
Said Boyle: "To give them some time and minutes was something everybody felt good about."
Added Dinwiddie: "Everybody is happy. We had people getting off the bench. We are each other's biggest supporters. Most of the time you see the guys on the bench supporting us (starters) and it was just a great opportunity we had to be able to support them."
CU, improving to 9-2, has one non-league game remaining before beginning Pac-12 Conference play on Jan. 3 at No. 4 Arizona. The Buffs play Hartford on Saturday, Dec. 29. It is part of a men's-women's doubleheader at the Events Center, with the CU women taking on New Mexico. The men's tip time is noon.
NAU came to Boulder with a 4-6 record, a pair of losses coming against Pac-12 opponents. The Lumberjacks lost November games at Oregon (83-73) and at Arizona (93-50), and NAU coach Jack Murphy left the CEC believing CU can compete with the upper tier Pac-12 teams.
"When they shoot the ball like they did tonight, they'll compete with anybody in the league," Murphy said. "I think that those three teams, and I obviously haven't seen the other nine, but those three I've seen are very, very good. I know right now as it stands they have the three best records in the conference and they all are well coached.
"I think Arizona's size will present problems for a lot of teams in the league but Colorado, they have great guard play . . . and with Roberson and Scott and the high-low action in the front court, they can be really tough to beat."
In the run-up to Friday's game, Boyle promised that his bench would be utilized more in the Buffs' final two non-conference games. He held true to his promise, using 10 players in Friday's first half as CU cruised to its 36-point lead at intermission. CU's bench wound up outscoring NAU's 39-11.
"We really need to get those (bench) guys going," Boyle said. "Those guys are going to be important to us throughout the season. We know pretty much what we're going to get from our starters."
The Buffs' 98 points were the second most in the Boyle era, as was their 47-point margin of victory. Their 57 first-half points were the third highest for a first half since the 1954-55 season.
Booker got CU rolling early by hitting five of his first six shots. When NAU pulled to 8-6 on an inside basket by 6-8 Max Jacobsen, Booker answered with a jumper and a layup to open a 23-2 Buffs run that effectively finished the Lumberjacks.
Boyle said it was "key for 'Ski' to come off . . . I was hoping he could get out of his funk." Taking extra shots has never been an issue for Booker, said Boyle: "He'll spend time in the gym. When he gets his mojo going, he's pretty darn good."
Booker said his hot start "felt pretty good," adding that the Lumberjacks defenders were "forcing me to the baseline a lot . . . their big guys are a little slower, which allowed me to get a few more open shots."
At the 9:18 mark, CU led 31-8 and was just getting untracked. With just over 2 minutes left before intermission, the Buffs' lead had ballooned to 40 (55-15). Consecutive layups by Sabatino Chen got CU to 55, and along the way there were plenty of highlights, including the 6-10 freshman Scott's first three-pointer of the season. He drained his trey from the top of the key and followed with the Buffs' next two baskets.
CU finished the half with an eye-popping 71.4 percent from the field (25-for-35) and 60 percent from three-point range (6-for-10). The Buffs shot 66.7 percent (40-for-60) for the game - the best shooting percentage by a CU team in 23 seasons - and were at 55 percent (11-for-20 from beyond the arc.
The only area that found the Buffs lacking was their free throw shooting. They made only one of seven first-half attempts, with three of the misses spoiling opportunities for three-point plays. They finished 7-of-15 from the line.
But with all else CU was doing right, misfiring from the foul stripe was forgivable. The Buffs' defense was stifling and their board work overwhelming; they held the Lumberjacks to 31.1 percent from the field (19-of-61) and outrebounded them 45-22.
The Buffs opened the second half with as much effort and efficiency as they did to begin the night. At the 12-minute mark, they were up by 50 (78-28) and showing no signs of easing up.
About 4 minutes later, with CU ahead 83-35, Mills - the 7-foot junior center - left the bench for only the second time this season, much to the delight of the CEC crowd. He scored his first points of the season on a layup with 4:32 to play, sending CU up 90-39.
Boyle completed the emptying of his bench by inserting Gamble, a sophomore guard who attended Fairview High School, with 5:33 remaining. Gamble got in the scoring column with a three-pointer in the final 90 seconds.
The Buffs missed an opportunity to reach 100 points for the first time this season, but really didn't care. They dribbled out the final 16 seconds without taking a shot. The crowd wasn't overly pleased - but the displeasure passed quickly.
CU now has a four-day Christmas break, which Boyle called "an eternity" compared to previous holiday off periods he has experienced. "The most I've ever had was maybe three days," he said. "These guys will have to do some cardio work at home; they can't sit on the couch and eat ham and turkey. I trust our guys."