The missed opportunities began early.

Colorado led by 16 points before losing to Gonzaga 76-72 in the Maui Invitational opener on Nov. 23. The next morning the Buffs lost to Arizona 91-87 in overtime.

Another potential victory over a Pac-10 opponent slipped away down the stretch as a bad Oregon State team beat the Buffs on Dec. 4.

The single-digit setbacks continued in Big 12 play with tough losses to Kansas State (87-81), Texas A&M (67-63) and Kansas (72-66, OT).

If the Buffs had found a way to win half of those games they would be 15-12 instead of 12-15. A berth in the NIT or CBI would be within reach.

There`s nothing CU can do about the near-misses now, except avenge the most painful woulda-coulda-shoulda finish of the season -- the 64-63 loss to Iowa State in Ames on Jan.

Colorado men’s basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik.
Colorado men's basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik. ( David Zalubowski )
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The Buffs (3-10 in the Big 12) host the Cyclones (14-14, 3-10) today at the Coors Events Center (11:30 a.m., Altitude).

Marcus Relphorde`s shot in the paint rimmed out as time expired in the first meeting. Alec Burks injured his left knee just two minutes into the game and did not return.

"We`ve got to get desperate so we can win these three games," said Burks, who has scored in double figures in every other game he has played in.

After suffering some lopsided losses at conference powerhousesKansas State, Kansas and Missouri this month, the Buffs believe they can bounce back today against Iowa State and put together a win streak entering the Big 12 Tournament.

CU`s final road game will be at last-place Nebraska next Tuesday and the home finale will be against Texas Tech on March 6.

"You`ve got to make layups and you can`t turn the ball over. We turned it over several times (against Missouri) where it was unforced," Bzdelik said after CU`s 92-63 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday. "You`ve got to be smarter and you can`t run and hide from the ball.

"All the things we`ve been working on, we didn`t do."

Craig Brackins scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Cyclones over CU. Iowa State dropped its next six games until Wednesday`s 78-74 win over Nebraska at Hilton Coliseum in which Brackins scored 11 of his 21 points in the final 7:18.

Brackins, a likely NBA first-round pick, had to be drooling while watching film of Missouri shooting 58.3 percent from the field without much resistance from the Buffs.

"You have to play defense," Burks said. "You can`t just let your man drive by you. Everybody needs to play harder."

A win today would solidify CU`s hold on 10th place and drop Iowa State back down to 11th. And the Buffs would still have a chance to improve their seed at the Big 12 Tournament with two more winnable games to close out the regular season.

These are opportunities Bzdelik`s team can`t afford to miss out on. There is no margin for error now to achieve the preseason goal of a winning season.