If the Colorado men's basketball team doesn't want a season that began with such promise and opportunity to erode into middle-of-the-pack mediocrity, it's time for the Buffaloes to get mentally tougher.
That essentially was the No. 1 message delivered this weekend by head coach Tad Boyle as his club reconvened to begin preparations for the Pac-12 Conference opener at Arizona. After playing their final game of a very disappointing Diamond Head Classic Tuesday morning in Hawaii, the Buffs were off for several days before returning to Boulder on Saturday.
On Sunday, Boyle put the Buffs through an intense workout in hopes of refocusing the attention of a team whose momentum shifts have swung wildly over the past two and a half weeks.
"I do think that we've got some guys that are fragile mentally, emotionally," Boyle said. "One thing competitive athletics teaches you, is it teaches you how to deal with adversity. We were playing well going into Hawaii. But we didn't play well in Hawaii. And we started feeling sorry for ourselves.
"That's when you see the body language. The heads go down. You question your ability. I don't know. Every individual player has to speak for themselves. But the fact of the matter is we had some fragility to our demeanor out there. And I don't understand why."
While inconsistent play has been a trait of Boyle's squads in recent seasons, this year's young but, ideally, up-and-coming bunch appeared to pick up a springboard-type victory on Dec. 11, erasing a 17-point New Mexico lead to pick up a solid road win at The Pit.
The Buffs had 11 days to prepare for the Diamond Head Classic, but they never played like it in Honolulu. CU committed a season-most 19 turnovers in a listless opening loss against Indiana State, and the Buffs never truly recovered in a loss against Hawaii the next day.
While the Buffs managed to leave the islands after a win against Charlotte, perhaps more concerning to Boyle than the 1-2 mark his team compiled was the number of baffling mistakes his team made at critical junctures. With Charlotte leading midway through the first half, the Buffs surrendered an offensive rebound off a missed 49ers free throw ... even though Charlotte didn't position a single player along the lane. At the end of the first half against Hawaii, the Buffs took a timeout with 23.7 seconds remaining to set up a final play. The clock ran out without the Buffs launching a shot.
On Sunday, as the Buffs started turning the page to Thursday's league opener at Arizona (7 p.m., MT, FS1), Boyle attempted to channel some wisdom from his all-time favorite player, Bill Russell, while trying to hit the right buttons to get his team's intensity to match its potential.
"Today's thought for the day came from Bill Russell," Boyle said. "That is, 'Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.' He's so right. Our concentration level when we struggled went out the window. Mental toughness is having the ability, when things aren't going you're way, to box out, to run the offense, to dig in on defense and get a stop. The mental toughness part, we don't have enough of it."