Tad Boyle warned Colorado basketball fans, but they didn't listen.

The Buffaloes' third-year coach tried to temper expectations for his team he believed were way out of whack in the fall when the season started. With six freshmen on the roster and needing to fill the roles of departed seniors, he knew his team would have a lot to learn before it could come close to meeting those expectations.

Then the Buffs shot out of the blocks with a stellar start to the season including winning the tournament championship at the Charleston Classic and rising to No. 19 in one national poll. It was understandable for CU faithful to think their coach might be sandbagging.

But after watching the Buffs through the first four games of Pac-12 Conference play, it's clear Boyle was spot on once again.

The Buffs are still learning to play defense for 40 minutes. They're still learning to rebound for 40 minutes and sometimes too reliant on old reliable Andre Roberson to get the rebound. They're still learning that the offense needs to be run with the same urgency and purpose in the 32nd minute or the 39th minute of the game that it does in the first. And they're still learning to play on the road.

Until these Buffs finally learn those lessons, they are destined to be a middle-of-the-Pac-12 team at best.


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I asked Boyle after Saturday's home loss to UCLA what it's going to take for his players to learn from these tough times in early January and become a better team because of it in February and March?

"Our players have to take ownership in what we're talking about and what we're stressing in practice and what we're talking about with our game plans," Boyle said. "If they don't take ownership if they just role their eyes or feel like, 'Oh, it's OK. I can get away with this.' They're fooling themselves because the reality is we're 1-3. And the reality is our coaching staff knows what we're talking about."

These players deserve credit for a never-say-die attitude, They fell behind by double digits at two points in the second half against the Bruins and fought back to give themselves a chance at another game-winning shot at the buzzer. Askia Booker's attempt from the corner on the baseline hit off the back of the iron.

The Buffs have proven they can play with any team in the nation. They beat Baylor. They should have beaten Arizona. And they played UCLA to the final second and the last shot.

Heart and desire are not the problem here. Execution is.

Boyle said he believes the Buffs lost Saturday's game during several defensive and rebounding lulls in the first half and again in the second. Take away those lulls and CU might have won easily, at the very least it probably would have been the team trying to withstand a run at the end.

Boyle said he might have to consider giving bench players more minutes so that starters such as Roberson, Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie are stay fresh throughout the game and play at a higher level throughout the game instead of being a part of those lulls.

The question is does Boyle have the bench to turn to?

He made the decision back in November to redshirt players like Wesley Gordon and Chris Jenkins. You know there have been moments this season -- and Saturday was probably one of them -- when Boyle has second-guessed that decision.

The players who are coming off the bench have been inconsistent at best this season with the exception of Xavier Johnson. None of them is scoring more than three points a game.

Boyle might think he has to get those guys more time in order to give his stars more rest, but it seems doubtful that strategy will work based on the results so far.

My guess is Boyle wanted his players to hear him say he's willing to limit their playing time. He's a savvy guy. He understands nothing motivates players like playing time and having playing time taken away.

The Buffs are 11-5 overall and 1-3 in the conference with a long way to go before the bags get packed for the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas in March. There is no reason to panic. Remember last season's team seemed to fall apart in the final two weeks of the regular season only to refocus and win the conference tournament. These Buffs can refocus, too.

This can still be another special season. Boyle says so and he hasn't been wrong very often since becoming Colorado's coach.