Tad Boyle didn't sound like a coach who had just won a tough road game after he walked off the floor at Clune Arena last November.

Colorado defeated Air Force 76-73 in overtime, but the Buffs committed 18 turnovers and allowed Michael Lyons to score 31 points on 10-for-19 shooting.

"Tonight we took major steps backwards," Boyle said that evening.

Boyle was in a much better mood following Saturday's crisp practice as No. 23 CU prepared for tonight's Front Range showdown against undefeated Air Force at the Coors Events Center (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

The young Buffs (4-0) took a big step forward in winning the Charleston Classic a week ago. The Falcons (5-0), who are averaging 84.8 points and giving up 63.6 points so far, will be a difficult challenge for CU once again.

All five of Air Force's starters, including Lyons (22.2 ppg), are seniors.

"As bad as I feel about scheduling them for how good they are and how dangerous they are, I think it's good for basketball in this area," Boyle said.

Boyle met with Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, who had also struggled during the Buffs' 1-2 run at the Puerto Rico Tip-off, after last year's game at Air Force.

"That marked the end of my five-game bad playing streak," Dinwiddie recalled. "It was all up hill from there."

Booker hit a key 3-pointer in overtime but struggled to defend Air Force's patient Princeton-style attack.


"I know I messed up probably three or four times last year getting back-doored and they got layups," Booker said. "I'm going to watch the film from last year and see what kind of stuff they run so I'm more prepared for their guards cutting and getting picks."

Dinwiddie, who was spectacular on the defensive end in the wins over Dayton, Baylor and Murray State, will guard Lyons. Sabatino Chen will also defend the Air Force star at times.

"Lyons can play for anybody in the country," Boyle said. "He's a heck of a player. This game's scary."

Josh Scott, who is from Colorado Springs, will be one of four true freshmen facing the Falcons for the first time.

The last time Air Force visited Boulder, the Jeff Bzdelik-led Falcons blew CU out, 84-46, on Nov. 18, 2006.

"The thing that is scary about playing Air Force with freshmen, Askia and Spencer went through it last year, is they don't understand how good they are," Boyle said. "They don't understand how well they execute, and there's no way as a coach you can prepare them. You can talk about it, talk about, talk about, but it doesn't matter until they experience it and are like, 'Dang, these guys are good. I do have to guard the back cut, I do have to get a hand up on a three.'

"The thing about Air Force, when you make mistakes, you pay."

Andre Roberson has the ability to erase a lot of mistakes. Last year he had 13 rebounds against the Falcons, and CU won the battle of the boards 47-28.

The junior forward, as was the case last November, is off to somewhat of a slow start offensively (9.0 ppg).

"I feel like it shouldn't have been that close, to be honest," Roberson, who is averaging 10.0 rebounds, said of the win at Clune Arena. "We were coming back from Puerto Rico. I'm not making excuses, but I felt like our guys weren't mentally there and this year it will be an entirely different story."

Entering Saturday's games, CBSSports.com had CU ranked No. 1 in RPI and Air Force No. 3. Duke was No. 2.

This will be the Buffs' first game since cracking the Associated Press top 25 poll for the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season.

"Nobody ever strives to be 23rd. We're still, in a lot of regards, the underdog," Dinwiddie said. "In this certain game I know we're favored, but we still feel like we don't have the respect that we deserve. We're going out there with a chip on our shoulder just like any other game.

"We have to prove that we're as good as some people think we are."

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CU men's hoops preview

TONIGHT: The No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes (4-0) face the Air Force Falcons (5-0) at 6 p.m. at the Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: Television on the Pac-12 Network with Jim Watson (play-by-play) and Ernie Kent (analyst). Radio on KKZN (AM 760) with Marke Johnson (play-by-play) and Chad Brown (color). Follow on Twitter @RyanThorburn.

CU STORY LINES: The Buffs won the Charleston Classic last week with wins over Dayton, then-No. 16 Baylor and Murray State. ... CU is ranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season and for the first time in non-conference play since Dec. 30, 1969. ... Askia Booker is the reigning Pac-12 player of the week after averaging 19.3 points, 3.0 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.3 rebounds in Charleston, S.C., where he was also named tournament most valuable player. ... CU has sold 6,400 season tickets and there were fewer than 800 tickets left for tonight's game on Saturday.

AIR FORCE STORY LINES: The Falcons improved to 5-0 with an 86-72 win over Montana State on Wednesday at Clune Arena. ... Michael Lyons scored 29 points to lead the way. ... All five of Air Force's starters are seniors. ... First-year Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich was 2-5 last season as the interim coach after replacing the fired Jeff Reynolds. ... Jeff Bzdelik coached the Falcons to an 84-46 victory over CU the last time Air Force visited Boulder on Nov. 18, 2006.

KEY STAT: Entering Saturday's games, CBSSports.com had Colorado ranked No. 1 and Air Force No. 3 in its RPI rankings. Duke was No. 2.

COACHES: Tad Boyle is 52-26 in his third season at CU. Dave Pilipovich is 7-5 in his first full season at Air Force.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Colorado -- F Andre Roberson, 6-7, So., 9.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg; F Josh Scott, 6-10, Fr., 12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg; G Spencer Dinwiddie, 6-6, So., 12.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg; G Askia Booker, 6-1, So., 17.8 ppg, 2.3 apg; G Sabatino Chen, 6-4, Sr., 5.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg. Air Force -- F Mike Fitzgerald, 6-6, Sr., 5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg; C Taylor Broekhuis, 6-10, Sr., 13.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg; G Todd Fletcher, 6-2, Sr., 9.2 ppg, 4.6 apg; G Michael Lyons, 6-5, Sr., 22.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg; G Kyle Green, 6-2, Sr., 8.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg.

SERIES: CU leads 18-3, including an 8-1 advantage in Boulder. The Buffs pulled out a 76-73 overtime victory at Air Force last season.

UP NEXT: The Buffs host Texas Southern on Tuesday at the Coors Events Center (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network).