Colorado head coach Tad Boyle has seen his team lose three times by six points or less.
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle has seen his team lose three times by six points or less. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

Even as the Colorado men's basketball team sputtered through the 2014-15 season, there was a sense that better days were ahead.

Head coach Tad Boyle knew this year's team had the potential to be an improved team.

Just past the midway point of the season, there's no question the Buffaloes are better.

At 12-4, CU is already close to last year's win total, when it went 16-18, and there's enough evidence to suggest the Buffs will blow right past that number and possibly surpass the 20-win mark.

Friday's 56-54 loss to Utah was yet another reminder, however, that this team still has work to do.

There's a bunch of talent on this team, led by Josh Scott, George King, Wesley Gordon and others. The Buffs have yet to find a killer instinct, though. In crunch time, the Buffs get crunched.

Three times the Buffs have lost by six points or less, and they've made a couple other games way too close.

In the season opener on Nov. 13 against Iowa State, the Buffs did a great job to hang with one of the best teams in the country. CU didn't have a late-game meltdown against the Cyclones, but never could find a way to get over the hump in a 68-62 loss.

On Dec. 23 in Las Vegas, the Buffs led by seven with seven minutes to go against SMU but gave up a 14-1 run late and got outscored 20-9 down the stretch to lose 70-66.

Against Utah, the Buffs' lead was 52-45 with 5:25 to play, but the Utes outscored them 11-2 the rest of the way. CU had three turnovers during that stretch.


Late-game meltdowns have almost cost the Buffs a couple of other times, too.

Last Sunday, the Buffs escaped Stanford with a one-point win after leading by 16 and scoring just four points in the last 10 minutes.

One night before the loss to SMU, the Buffs held a nine-point lead against Penn State with less than two minutes to go, but escaped with a one-point victory.

During the previous two years, injuries to star players — Spencer Dinwiddie in 2013-14 and Josh Scott last year — prevented the Buffs from being as good as they could have been.

Right now, CU's issue is that it becomes a different, less effective team when it matters most.

They couldn't do anything about the injuries to Dinwiddie and Scott, but they can fix their current problem. Poor shot selection, panicked and lazy passes and defensive lapses have all contributed to CU's late-game struggles.

"We've got to finish better," Boyle said after Friday's loss. "We're going to be in a lot of games like this. We didn't make enough play down the stretch and we're going to get better at that."

They have to. As Boyle mentioned, this won't be the last time CU finds itself in this situation. To truly make this a better season, CU has to handle these situations better.

There's enough talent on this roster for the Buffs to finish the regular season with 22 wins, make a run at a first-round bye for the Pac-12 Tournament, and establish themselves as a NCAA Tournament-caliber squad.

There's also enough talent around the Pac-12 to keep the Buffs in the 17-19 win range if they aren't careful.

The difference between the two scenarios is CU's ability to figure how to finish games. If the Buffs can figure it out, this has the potential to be a memorable season.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.