At the conclusion of Wednesday's practice, Tad Boyle put both forefingers to either side of his head and offered this layman's analysis for his Colorado basketball team: "Guys, it's all between here."
Boyle was referencing the mental frame of mind he expects the Buffaloes to be in when they play Stanford Thursday night at the Coors Events Center (8 p.m., ESPNU). But he was also recalling CU's two games last season against the Cardinal - and from the Buffs' perspective that pair of losses couldn't have been uglier.
From the tops of their heads down, the Buffs were flogged.
"They whipped our ass - there's no politically correct way to say it," Boyle said. "They whipped it in every way, shape and form. At home, on the road, rebounding, offense, defense, loose balls - you name it."
The two scores - 84-64 at Stanford, 74-50 in Boulder - did a decent job of describing the Cardinal's dominance. But there was also the 85-53 two-game edge in rebounding, as well as Stanford's 50 percent shooting from the field in the two games.
"When we played them here, it wasn't a great feeling seeing your fans leave not even halfway into the second half," remembered CU junior wing Andre Roberson. "It was just kind of disappointing. We let (Buffs fans) down with that.
"This year, I feel like we're going to come ready to play . . . capitalize on the game plan and come out ready to compete. We know what they're all about; we have to be physical and aggressive."
At 2-3 in the Pac-12 Conference, Stanford is a game ahead of CU (2-4) in the loss column. California, also 2-3, visits the Events Center on Sunday afternoon, giving the Buffs a chance to reel in the pair of teams ahead of them. But Boyle is dialed in on the Cardinal and expects his players to be even more so.
"Our guys have got to be thinking about the next practice, the next game," he said. "Because if we start looking ahead, that's when you get in trouble. That's what immature teams do. You talk to Oregon, my guess is they're dialed in to Washington State (Wednesday night). That's all they think about, all they're concerned about. I know it's a cliché and not fun to write about, but it'd better be the truth. If it's not then we've got problems."
Stanford's makeup has changed from last season, as has CU's. The Cardinal lost frontcourt beasts Josh Owens (6-8, 240) and Andrew Zimmerman (6-8, 230). That duo, observed Roberson, gave the Cardinal "some pretty big guys inside . . . but you still have to compete. We can't really elaborate on that; the hungrier dog wins the game."
Added Boyle: "They're missing a couple of really good players. Everybody knows about Owens and what he did in his career. But Zimmerman was a kid that I thought late in the year played extremely well. He was a tough matchup."
Dwight Powell, a 6-10 junior, played at the "three" spot last season, but has switched to the "five." Said Boyle: "They're a different team; they miss a couple of those inside guys. But then again, now it's a situation where you've got to guard Powell with a 'four' or 'five' - and he's much improved."
Powell is averaging a team-high 16 points in Pac-12 competition and collecting 8.6 rebounds a game. The Cardinal's top board man is 6-7 junior Josh Huestis at 9.8. Stanford is fourth in rebounding margin (plus-1.8), CU is eighth (minus-2.0) in the league - figures that don't sit well with Boyle.
The Cardinal and Buffs guards have shared a recent common problem - making shots. Oddly, Stanford is shooting better from beyond the arc than in front of it. In conference play, the Cardinals is second in three-point shooting (40.2 percent) but 11th overall (39.4). In those same categories, CU is 12th (25.8) and seventh (41.5).
Boyle said some of Stanford's perimeter difficulties can be attributed to "some of their inside presence being gone this year. And their guards - (Aaron) Bright and (Chasson) Randle - aren't shooting the ball as well they're capable of. We know they're both better players than their numbers indicate - and we've talked about that."
Bright (7.6 ppg) is shooting 28.1 percent from the field in Pac-12 play, while Randle (12.8 ppg) is at 42.9.
CU's starting sophomore backcourt - Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker - also has misfired in January. Dinwiddie's six-game Pac-12 field goal percentage is 44.3, Booker's 31.0.
Boyle said Dinwiddie, who still leads CU in scoring (14.8 ppg), is "not shooting the ball much better than Randle is overall. They're both having subpar shooting years. They're both really important to their respective teams. We need Spencer to play well for us to be successful - there's no getting around that. And they need Randle to play well for them to be as good as they want to be."
But the box score might not be the main area where Booker's contributions are needed. From their preseason experience with Navy SEALS training, Boyle said he and his staff recognized this about Booker's influence on his teammates: "If he's not emotionally dialed in it affects our team. When he is, our guys feed off of that."
Boyle said 6-6 freshman Xavier Johnson will start Thursday night in place of 6-4 senior Sabatino Chen - a move Boyle has made in four previous conference games for match-up purposes. Johnson averages 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in league play. He scored 14 in CU's 58-49 win at Washington State last weekend.
Dinwiddie said the page on last season's lopsided losses to the Cardinal has been turned and the Buffs aren't dwelling on redemption: "It's a new year, new team. We fully understand what happened last year. We understand we got out-bounded on the glass and they blew us out both times. We're looking to come out and play physical and tough and set the tone."
Among Boyle's stand-by lines is this one: "Revenge is for suckers." But that doesn't mean he has discarded the nasty memories of two slaps from Stanford last season.
"The returning guys remember, but we're not talking about revenge," he said. "We are talking about how they manhandled us. And if we don't come to play and aren't ready for a physical game, they'll do it again."