Were you there Thursday night? Not much studying done, but a whole lot of (Mills)shaking going on. The place was nuts, simply nuts . . . throw-back-your-head-and-howl-at-the-moon wacko. Talk about electricity, this was one high-wattage, hair-raising night - an atmosphere not seen, heard or felt in these parts for a long, long time. Maybe ever.
After CU had disposed of his ninth-ranked Wildcats 71-58, Arizona coach Sean Miller had this to say about the Buffs' former "study hall:" "I thought Colorado had an incredible environment. This was a big game for them and they played really well . . . I think tonight, even some of the best teams in the country would have had to come in here and play a great game. This was an electric atmosphere and they played really hard."
And this on the rabid crowd of 11,120 from CU sophomore Spencer Dinwiddie, who is rapidly becoming one of the marquee players in the Pac-12 Conference: "They were great. When we hit a lull and (Arizona) pulled it to six, they were bringing the energy and helping us pick it up . . . just being there for us. They're the best sixth man in the conference."
The CEC's transformation from mute to manic seems to have happened overnight and almost by chance - but neither is the case. Tad Boyle is closing in on closing out his third season at CU. The turnstiles are clicking and the Buffs are humming; they have played to crowds of 10,000 or more fans in nine of 11 home games this season and are 10-1 in the CEC this winter (42-5 in Boyle's tenure).
No longer is Boulder a destination vacation for a certain 'W' - in fact, it's just the opposite. It's a no-fun pit stop for Pac-12 teams. Take a bow, C-Unit. Take another. These guys are good; they show up and don't shut up. (Student Section of The Year is not a stretch, and you can make it happen by voting daily on Facebook.com/Ilovecollegehoops. Polls close on Feb. 22).
Of course, Boyle recognizes what his homecourt has become. "The fans were a part of (Thursday's) victory," he said. "And I want our fans and students to know that everybody in this building was a part of this victory, it was everybody."
That's why in his postgame press conference Boyle was pushing for another sold-out, flipped-out crowd on Saturday night when Arizona State visits (7 p.m., ESPNU). It's as big a game as Thursday night's, and here's why: Three days into their conference-opening weekend, the Buffs lost 65-56 in Tempe. There's a third-place logjam in the Pac-12 standings, with CU, ASU, California and surprisingly good Southern California all at 7-5.
After their 1-4 conference start, the Buffs have climbed out of the abyss and now can begin separating themselves in their final six regular-season games. Four of them are at home, with the only remaining road trips to Stanford (Feb. 27) and Cal (March 2).
But the Buffs are unquestionably hot right now; closing really strong is a real possibility. Before the Wildcats' visit, Boyle said his team had improved since it visited Tucson on Jan. 3. Most of that improvement was registered on defense, mainly in the ability to get stops and close. Miller, who has a good relationship with Boyle, called CU "a really good defensive team," which is the highest praise to Boyle.
But after so-so offensive performances in their Oregon sweep, the Buffs hit the ON button against Arizona. CU shot 50 percent from the field (59.1 in the second half) and got clutch baskets from Dinwiddie (21 points) and Xavier Johnson (19). Miller said Johnson "was great. He probably doesn't get enough national recognition. He may be the best freshman in the (Pac-12). If not, he should be put up there with the three or four that everyone acknowledges."
Johnson, Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson, gushed Miller, "are some of the elite players in our conference."
Miller also said the Buffs "were ready to go" on Thursday night, which speaks to their preparedness and mindset for a game that featured as big a buildup as any CU basketball game in recent memory. Credit Boyle and his staff for keeping the young Buffs grounded after the controversial loss in Tucson. As big a hurdle will be quickly bringing them back to earth after Thursday night.
Said Boyle: "That is the challenge . . . we have to have a quick turnaround Saturday at 7. We have to be emotionally ready, spiritually ready, physically, mentally ready to play a game and it is going to be just like (Thursday) - a great game against a great Arizona State basketball team."
After opening Pac-12 play 3-0, the Wildcats are 4-5 in their last nine games. Their most recent loss was 60-55 at Utah on Wednesday night. ASU coach Herb Sendek said his team "didn't finish the game the way we needed to . . . we didn't do things down the stretch that you need to do on the road in a close game and seal the win."
The Buffs have been there, suffered through that, with their games at Tucson and Tempe Exhibits A and B. They lost 17- and 13-point leads in losing those games. But they've pulled themselves out of that funk and appear more capable now of holding leads and dealing with players such as ASU's Carrick Felix (five double-doubles in the past seven games), Jahi Carson (No. 3 Pac-12 scorer at 17.6 ppg) and 7-2 center Jordan Bachynski (No. 1 Pac-12 shot blocker at 3.0 ppg; he had nine blocks, seven rebounds and 16 points against CU).
The Buffs have beaten two Top 25 teams in their last three games, and I asked Boyle what that means for their NCAA Tournament resume at this point of the season.
His answer, not surprisingly, was, "It means we have to win on Saturday night, because Arizona State beat us, just like Arizona did. We have to take care of the next game on our schedule, and the fact that we have beaten two Top 25 five teams I think says a lot about our team and our ability. We have got to hold serve at home; I'm still aggravated about the UCLA game (a 78-75 loss), so we have to take care of business on Saturday."
This couldn't be said not long ago, but if it's business as usual at the CEC the Buffs should be just fine.
BIG EIGHT CHAMPS TO BE HONORED: At halftime of Saturday's game, members of CU's 1961-62 and 1962-63 Big Eight championship teams will be recognized at their 50th reunion. The '61-'62 team went 13-1 in conference play and was 11-0 at home. The '62-'63 team also finished undefeated at home. Both teams, coached by the late Sox Walseth, advanced to the NCAA Midwest Regional championship game and lost each time to Cincinnati. Eight former players from the two CU teams are expected to attend, along with three members of Walseth's family.