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By: Joel Broida
Freshman Xavier Johnson (2) takes it to the rim.
Brooks: Buffs Kick Off Grueling Stretch At Wyoming
Release: November 30, 2012
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
BOULDER - If the ceiling and wall paint in the Colorado men's basketball locker room shows a new blister here, a new pucker there, it is due to Tad Boyle's reported, ah, eloquence at halftime Tuesday night. CU trailed by 10 against one-win Texas Southern, which finally succumbed 85-80 in double overtime.

Boyle believes a lesson in respecting the opposition and bringing intensity nightly was administered to the young Buffs (6-0). He also believes the respect card might not come into play again until four days before Christmas, when Northern Arizona visits the Coors Events Center.

That's a long way off, and between now and then there is no reason for losing focus or having to manufacture intensity. The No. 19 Buffs' next four opponents - beginning with unbeaten (7-0) Wyoming on Saturday night in Laramie - are a combined 24-4. After the bus ride north, CU comes home to face Colorado State (6-0) on Wednesday night, travels to No. 10 Kansas (7-1) on Saturday, Dec. 8, then trips to Fresno State (4-3) on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

If that stretch can't capture the Buffs' undivided attention, then there's not much Boyle and his staff can do in the way of mind mending. But first come the Cowboys, who sauntered into the Events Center last December, took complete control in the second half and snapped CU's 27-game home non-conference winning streak, 65-54.

At the time, Boyle called the loss "as disappointing as I've been a part of since I've been at Colorado . . . Wyoming came in and took it from us; they beat us fair and square."

A big part, literally, of the Cowboys' win was 6-10 senior center Adam Waddell, who scored all 17 of his points in the second half. "He killed us," said Buffs guard Spencer Dinwiddie. "I'm glad he's not there now."

But Waddell's frontline sidekick - bulky 6-7 Leonard Washington - is back. He had 16 points against CU in the last meeting. Plus, there's sharp shooting guard Luke Martinez, who had 14 against the Buffs, hitting half of his eight three-point attempts. He is averaging 13.3 points this year, just behind Washington (14.1 points, 8.7 rebounds).

Wyoming's roster features three Coloradoans - freshmen Josh Adams (Parker) and Austin Haldorson (Highlands Ranch) and sophomore Riley Grabau. Boyle said second-year Cowboys coach Larry Shyatt and his staff have done a good job of identifying Colorado talent. CU passed on the 6-9 Haldorson, whose granddad "Burdie" is a Buffs Hall of Famer, because it had targeted in-state big men Josh Scott and Wes Gordon.

Said Boyle: "In basketball you say it's easier to recruit because we don't have as many number. Well, sometimes it's harder to recruit because we don't have as many numbers. You can't take them all."

CU approached Grabau about walking on, but Wyoming offered a scholarship. Easy choice.

 "Those kids, I know, would love to stick it in our ear, I'm sure, and show us they're better," Boyle said. "I think they're both very good players and terrific young men from very good families. But sometimes the numbers game puts handcuffs on us with 13 scholarships."

In their previous games, much of the Buffs' defensive focus has been on defending the perimeter. For the next several games, the bulk of their attention will shift inside. Boyle called Washington "as good a post player as we'll play this year. He's good, with a big body, and skilled." He also called 6-8 sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. "an athletic four man." Nance averages 8.6 points and 7.7 rebounds.

"Up to this point," said Boyle, "we've talked about how our perimeter guys have been challenged . . . now it's the post guys' turn. For the foreseeable future, our post guys have to step up and show what they're made of on the defensive end."

One of those guys Boyle has in mind is 6-6 freshman Xavier Johnson, who is learning not to dial down his aggressiveness when he picks up a couple of fouls. In the championship game of the Charleston Classic, "XJ" admitted he "withdrew" after committing his second foul and was "not on my 'A' game."

But in the double OT outing against Texas Southern, Johnson played well with four fouls. "I was able to keep my composure, keep my cool," he said. "I still played my game. I have to learn to still play hard even if I have a couple of fouls. If you don't play hard, you get taken out of the game. It goes either way."

Wyoming played a zone defense for most of last year's game in Boulder and quickly sent two to three players back on defense to slow the Buffs' transition game. Boyle wouldn't be surprised to see the same strategy again: "We could see (zone) for 40 minutes or 20 minutes, we don't know," he said. "That's another way to slow it down. It's a lot easier to slow the game down than speed it up. We're not a pressing team; we have presses in (but) we have to figure it out.

"When you get into conference play, things seem to get more half-court oriented. Obviously we want transition to be a part of it; the best way for us to make that happen is to make stops and run. But like we found out against Texas Southern, it's hard to run when you're getting the ball out the basket. We have to get stops to create our transition."

The game in Laramie marks CU's first true road test of the season, which Dinwiddie concedes will be "a different environment. Having half the crowd against you at a neutral site vs. having the whole crowd against you is a different feeling. Now you just have to come together a little bit more than you already do and just go in with one focus - and that's to win the game."

Dinwiddie, who had a team-best 24 points against Texas Southern, said the lesson learned from that game has been filed away. Now, the Buffs are facing forward. "I don't think any team is perfect," he said. "Every team has bumps in the road, and luckily our bump was a win. We want to stay the course on what we were doing before (Texas Southern) - come out and play hard, play smart and play together."

It's a good recipe for success on Saturday night and in the three games thereafter. Focus won't be a problem.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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