With the postseason officially at hand, the Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball team professed a desire to erase the past and focus on the next challenge.
Yet that likely will be easier said than done — particularly if the Buffs find themselves attempting to protect a late lead in the loser-goes-home games soon to come.
CU will limp into its first game of the Pac-12 Conference tournament on Wednesday on the heels of a late meltdown at Utah in the regular-season finale Saturday night. In a scene that has become frighteningly familiar to Buffs fans this season, CU turned in another Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, dictating the action for a large portion of the contest before folding and allowing a 14-point lead with under eight minutes to play slip away.
The Buffs squandered a late lead at home to the Utes in January. They blew a 15-point second half lead at USC on Feb. 17. And while CU never claimed a significant lead while visiting a less-talented Oregon State team on Feb. 6, the Buffs' inability to execute down the stretch played a significant factor in a four-point loss.
So while the Buffs have managed to come through in crunch time on a number of occasions at home, the specter of late collapses away from the Coors Events Center looms large as the Buffs enter the postseason.
"The challenge is that we have to have a short memory," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "This part of the season is over. The regular season is done. It's behind us. There's nothing we can do about it. There's nothing we can do about the Utah loss at home. Nothing we can do about the loss at USC. Nothing we can do about the loss at Oregon State. There's nothing we can do about the loss (at Utah).
"That's four losses that really, conceivably, easily, could have been wins, if we handled it. This part of the season is over with, and now it's about turning our attention to Las Vegas."
The ledger says CU's first-round opponent in the league tournament, Washington State, has won only one of 18 conference games while sporting a 16-game losing streak. But those numbers are not indicative of how the Cougars nearly notched a pair of wins against the Buffs during the regular season.
At home on Feb. 11, CU needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from George King at the end of regulation before finally outlasting the Cougars in double overtime. The Buffs' most recent win on the road occurred at WSU on Jan. 23, but CU needed a late 12-2 run — also sparked by a King 3-pointer —
before holding on for a 75-70 win.
"We just have to think about the Pac-12 tournament. That's all we've got," sophomore forward Tory Miller said. "We've got a quick turnaround. We've got to take what we got (at Utah) and give it out on someone else."
After Saturday's loss Boyle lamented how difficult it is to draw fouls on the road, and some of his team's numbers support his stance. In nine conference home games, the Buffs averaged 26.2 free throw attempts per game. In nine road dates, CU averaged 18.8 free throw attempts. Assuming the Buffs connected at their regular pace, that adds up to five extra points per game CU was missing on the road.