CU men's basketball preview: Air Force

GAME TIME: Monday, 7 p.m., Clune Arena, Air Force Academy.

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (8-3) at Air Force Falcons (6-5).

BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; Also 740 AM in Colorado Springs. TV — CBS Sports.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (138-83, 194-149 overall); Air Force — Dave Pilipovich, 5th season (66-78 at Air Force and overall).

LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 15.1 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 8.4 ppg; Assists: White, 3.5 apg. Air Force — Scoring: F Hayden Graham, Sr., 13.3 ppg; Rebounding: Graham, 5.5 rpg; Assists: G Jacob Van, Jr., 3.4 apg.

NOTABLE: CU leads the all-time series 22-3. The Buffs have won six in a row against the Falcons, including an 80-71 home win last year...Air Force began the season 5-0 but has lost five of six games since...The Falcons have been idle since Dec. 10, when they suffered a loss against a University of Denver team coached by former CU assistant Rodney Billups...The Buffs have shown improvement at the free throw line lately, going 56-for-75 (.747) over the past three games...CU senior Xavier Johnson has averaged 17.3 points in the past four games...After grabbing at least nine rebounds in seven of the first eight games of the season, Gordon has averaged just 5.3 rebounds in the past three games.


It's another game that, on paper, the Colorado Buffaloes should win rather decisively.

Yet Monday night's date at Air Force also features the sort of opponent that often has given the Buffs fits in recent seasons. Tough. Disciplined. And unlikely to wilt under pressure.

On the heels of a lackluster win Saturday against Division II Fort Hays State, the Buffs will attempt to finally get on track in their first visit to the Air Force Academy's Clune Arena since 2013 (7 p.m., CBS Sports).

The contest will be the second in a three games-in-six days stretch for CU that concludes its nonconference schedule. Much like Fort Hays, the Buffs can expect the A-game from a rival likely to hit the floor with nothing to lose.

"The thing about Air Force is they're disciplined, and they're tough," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "When this Colorado basketball team plays against teams that are disciplined and that are tough, we struggle. So we'd better strap it on against Air Force because if we're not disciplined, if we're not tough, they're going to be shooting layups with that Princeton offense. They're going to be shooting wide-open threes. And we're going to be sitting there scratching our head in the second half (against Fort Hays) thinking, 'Well, what's going on here?'"

The Buffs were outscored by Fort Hays 49-42 in the second half and managed a marginal rebound advantage of 40-36 against the much smaller Tigers.

Boyle likely didn't plan on putting such urgency on the final two dates of the nonconference slate, but Monday's battle at Air Force followed by Thursday's home game against Eastern Washington represent the Buffs' final opportunities to get their game in shape for the Pac-12 Conference schedule. CU arguably has put together just two games out of 11 in which they played well in both halves — a neutral-court win against then-No. 22 Texas on Nov. 22, and a home win almost two weeks ago against a 13th-ranked Xavier team.

"We know that this team is capable," Boyle said. "We know that they can do it in spurts. We know that. We've shown that against Xavier. We showed it against Notre Dame. We showed it against BYU at times. High-level teams on the road, at home, we've shown we can be as good as we want to be.

"We've also shown that we can't sustain it. And that's the challenge for this team."

This week the Buffs might welcome back junior guard Dominique Collier, who has been sidelined since the season opener due to a stress fracture in his foot. Given that freshman guard Bryce Peters was suspended for the first two games this season, Collier's return will allow CU to compete with its full assortment of players for the first time this year.

Boyle, though, also has promised lately that he will shorten the rotation his Buffs don't begin producing.

"It's pivotal that we focus on rebounding and defending," junior guard George King said. "I know I probably sound like a broken record, but that's all it is. And competing. It's got to mean something. Just because we're playing Fort Hays doesn't mean we can come out and just BS in a half. We've got to come out and play. These guys want to come out and win. They have nothing to lose and we had everything to lose.

"We've just got to have that chip on our shoulder."

Pat Rooney: or