When their chartered jet touched down here Thursday afternoon, the weather conditions and overall feel of things reminded several of the veteran Colorado Buffaloes of another time in another conference. Flash back to:
Big 12 country . . . mid-January in Ames, Iowa . . . leaden skies and a landscape blanketed by snow . . . temperatures bobbing from the mid- to low-20s.
Make enough wintry trips to Ames and other hoops stops in the Heartland and your appreciation of the winter months in Colorado should climb considerably. The Buffs' first wintry, make it first ever, trek toward Pullman, Wash., is having that same effect - at least on one traveler.
CU's four-day hoops swing through the Pacific Northwest - the first stop was a night spent misfiring in Seattle - serves as a stark reminder that the Pac-12 Conference isn't all beaches and desert, all sunshine and lapping waves.
But from conference to conference, there are constants in basketball travel - the most obvious being how difficult it is for most visiting teams to go from stop to stop and win. The Buffs have dropped in on three Pac-12 schools this season and still are searching for Road 'W' No. 1.
They hop from Spokane to Pullman on Saturday morning and play at Washington State that night (8 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network), hoping to break the streak and begin a climb back from a 1-4 conference start.
CU coach Tad Boyle is a self-professed numbers guy, and there are several in his team's home and away play that trouble him. Some of the poorer stats he believes can be remedied through hard work and better execution; others, well . . . hear him out.
Before the Buffs made this trip, Boyle offered up some free throw numbers and the discrepancies between the Buffs' number of attempts on neutral courts vs. true road games. He tossed out free throw attempts at home because those seem to even out among schools.
But his bottom line (and he's more of a bottom line guy than a numbers guy) was that for some reason, when he did the research, there was a decided imbalance between attempts on neutral courts (plus 11) and attempts in true road games (minus seven). If you're counting at home - which Boyle obviously is - that's a difference of 18 attempts. And that can be a big difference.
His research was done before CU's 64-54 loss at Washington on Wednesday night, but his conclusion held up. The Huskies attempted 23 free throws, making 18; the Buffs shot 14, making 11. There were enough other factors involved to make this night a frustrating one for his team, but in Boyle's postgame remarks he made this observation:
"We need to start making some shots to help win some games on the road because we are not getting to the free throw line, we were 11-for-14 from the free throw line which is a good percentage but 14 is not enough attempts. It happens to us on the road all the time, but it doesn't happen at home, yet it happens to us on the road for some reason."
Aside from the imbalance from the foul line, Boyle was spot on in saying the Buffs "need to start making some shots . . ." They missed most of their shots (21-for-58, 36.2 percent) against the Huskies, who actually missed more (20-for-59, 33.9 percent) and still won. Boyle acknowledged UW's defense for creating some of CU's problems, but he also pointed to his team's offensive execution as a culprit in the misfiring.
"I think Washington had something to do with it," Boyle said. "Josh (Scott) had trouble scoring over (7-footer Aziz) N'Diaye, there's no question . . . (but) against Washington you're going to have to move the ball. We had six possessions where we had five or more passes. We tried to do things too early in the shot clock. I want us to be aggressive and sometimes when we got good shots it was early in the shot clock.
"But we took too many bad shots - that was the bottom line. We shot 58 times and 18 shots were bad shots - bad shots defined as somebody in your face or a jump shot over a hand. That's almost a third of your shots, and with that you're not going to shoot a good percentage."
The Buffs, said Boyle, have to be consistently better with their spacing, execution and decisions. But he added, "Again, there were possessions where we made great decisions and had great spacing. But it's kind of like where we were with our defense: you've got great defensive possessions, but you don't guard for 40 minutes.
"We guarded for 40 minutes (Wednesday) night. We didn't rebound, but we guarded. Our first-shot defense was terrific; we held them to 33 percent and we'll take that every night of the week. But those 15 offensive rebounds . . .
"Offensively, it's the same thing. We had some great possessions, but we had a lot of empty possessions, some where we never got a shot off and silly turnovers. So spacing, screening, patience, a lot of our shot selection . . ."
Although the Buffs finished the night with six assists, tying a season low, Boyle wasn't displeased by their attempts at sharing: "We're trying to share the ball, although our assists don't look like it. But we tried to share it. It's just decision making."
That might be passed off as one of the characteristics of a team that mostly plays one senior, a junior and then first- and second-year players. But Boyle isn't going to lean on the youth factor. Why?
"Because we've proven we can do it," he said. "But it gets back to league play and the margin for error shrinks. And we're still playing like we're playing against Wofford or Northern Arizona or Hartford. That margin for error is a little wider. Against Washington it's a lot slimmer."
Boyle isn't expecting the margin to be that much wider Saturday night at Wazzu, although the Cougars have the same number of wins as the Buffs in Pac-12 play. On the same night CU was losing at Washington, Washington State defeated Utah 75-65 for its first conference win (1-3, 10-7).
At 1-4 in league play, the Buffs aren't yet buried in the conference standings. But junior wing Andre Roberson said the loss to the Huskies makes Saturday's game "very critical. I don't think anybody on the team wants to be 1-5. We know what we have to do; Saturday is a must win."
Not many among the traveling party - particularly Boyle - are peeking past Pullman, but we'll do it for him. Having already played two of the three league's undefeated teams (UW, UCLA) and then-unbeaten Arizona in their league opener, the Buffs now begin a stretch of the schedule that could offer an assist in the digging out process.
After the visit to WSU, CU comes home next week to play Stanford (Thursday, 8 p.m.) and California (Sunday, 1:30 p.m.) before traveling to Utah the following Saturday to open a new month. If the Buffs can get past their road difficulties this weekend, the potential is there to pull even in the conference standings with a pair of home wins next week.
But they'll have to be more patient and potent offensively to reach .500. Boyle's defensive message seems to have sunk in - at least for one night in Seattle. "I think we bucked up on defense and showed we have some fight in us," Scott said. "That was good. We just want to shoot the ball better."
Added Roberson: "We stepped it up big time on the defensive end . . . we just didn't get the rebounds when it mattered and we didn't make the tough stops . . . we're right there. We took a step forward (Wednesday), but we came up on the short end. The next game is real critical; if we can get that game and get two home wins, we can definitely get on a streak."