Sure, some of it was the usual mental and emotional grind every coach goes through on game day, but there were some tangible reasons for Boyle to be concerned well before tip off against Arizona State.
The Buffs were coming off an emotional payback win over Arizona on Thursday night and hadn't practiced well Friday. Despite a stern warning from Boyle to show up Saturday in a better frame of mind, they looked lethargic in the shoot-around Saturday morning.
Boyle was concerned about a letdown, the kind of performance that can damage an NCAA Tournament résumé. He knew he needed his team at or near its best expecting a physical game from the punchy Sun Devils.
That's just what the Buffs got.
ASU was coming off a disappointing loss at Utah on Wednesday and after two days of practice here in Boulder, it was desperate for a win. ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi listed the Sun Devils among his last four teams out of the NCAA Tournament midway through a busy Saturday of action.
In a basketball game that looked more like brawl at times, the Sun Devils landed one more haymaker than the Buffs. It came at the buzzer in overtime and the 63-62 final led to a raucous celebration from the 25-or so members of the ASU traveling party in front of a stunned student section that had stormed the court just 48 hours earlier when the Buffs beat No. 9 Arizona.
The Buffs didn't handle it well the last time they faced the ASU and 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski.
But that is just what Boyle wanted his team to do the second time around.
"The way you handle a shot blocker is by goingright at him," Boyle said before the game.
The plan wasn't really being followed in the first half. Eight of the Buffs' 21 shots in the first 20 minutes came from behind the 3-point arc. Fortunately, they made four of them. Bachynski wasn't dominating the game but he was intimidating the Buffs to be sure and CU didn't like the physical tone set by the Sun Devils.
CU starting forward Andre Roberson and center Josh Scott along with reserve big man Shane Harris-Tunks combined for two points and three rebounds in the first half. The Sun Devils led by three.
Tempers flared briefly at times as the Buffs became frustrated with the grabbing and holding and calls not going their way, but they really started to get heated early in the second half when Scott and Bachynski got tangled up struggling for position on ASU's offensive end. They fell to the floor and Scott hit his head and didn't get up.
Fans exploded with boos at the sight of Scott's teammates motioning for trainers to come to Scott's aid and because they knew the foul had been called on Scott. Boyle also came on the floor screaming at officials as he went to check his freshman center. Scott didn't return to the game and Bachynski immediately followed up the play with a dunk, hanging on the rim for a moment, which further antagonized the crowd.
Amid all the emotion Colorado point guard Spencer Dinwiddie began to take control for his team. The sophomore was calm. He continuously pushed the ball into the heart of the ASU defense just as Boyle asked of him and made his way to the foul line. Once there, he drained all 14 free throws he attempted.
Dinwiddie was instrumental in keeping his team in the game all the way to the end of regulation when he pushed the ball at the Sun Devils once more only to reach the basket and drop a sly pass to Xavier Johnson who slammed the ball through to tie the score at 54 and send it to overtime.
The physical nature of the game finally caught up with the Buffs in overtime forcing Dinwiddie to the bench with four fouls. CU didn't execute well offensively in overtime but managed to get enough stops on the defensive end until the final possession when Evan Gordon drove to the basket and somehow coaxed the winning shot to fall through.
When the Buffs beat Arizona on Thursday, I was struck by the intensity of the game. It felt like a rivalry an hour before the game started. Saturday's game didn't begin with that same passion but it sure ended with it. The Buffs and their fans are gradually finding reasons to dislike their Pac-12 opponents. This conference is starting to feel like home.
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