This is the moment Colorado has been building toward for the past 10 months.
The momentum began rolling, slowly at first, in late January, when a Buffaloes men’s basketball team that had played erratically through the first half of the 2018-19 season finally put it together, reeling off 12 wins in 16 games while advancing to the Pac-12 Conference tournament semifinals and NIT quarterfinals.
With the entire team returning this year, the Buffs have been appropriately recognized as Pac-12 contenders and a top-25 caliber team nationally. Now the Buffs will get to see just how well they measure up to the best of the best.
In a showdown that has been circled on the calendars of Buffs fans since it was announced in June, Kansas alum Tad Boyle takes his 20th-ranked Buffs into historic Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to challenge the second-ranked Jayhawks.
CU hasn’t defeated a top-10 team in a true road games since an 81-79 overtime win at No. 5 Missouri on Jan. 15, 1973.
“Definitely there’s a heightened level of concentration today. Our guys are going to be ready emotionally,” Boyle said. “These are the games as a coach you don’t have to worry about getting your guys fired up.
“Our guys will be ready, but the margin for error shrinks significantly when you go on the road anywhere. It shrinks even more when you go to Allen Fieldhouse, and it shrinks even more when you play Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. They’re beatable, we know that. But we’re going to have to play very, very well. We’re going to have to play much better offensively than we’ve played all year.”
Make no mistake — a Buffs team that has been far from flawless will need a near-flawless performance to knock off the Jayhawks. For CU, it might be as simple offensively as taking care of the ball, something the Buffs have been unable to do while committing 37 turnovers over the past two games.
Defensively, the Buffs have played at an elite level through their 7-0 start. But on Wednesday Loyola Marymount shot .519 at the CU Events Center — no Buffs opponent had shot better than .408 through the first six games — and Kansas is likely to pose a defensive challenge unlike anything else CU will face this season.
Led by 7-footer Udoka Azubuike’s NCAA-best .797 shooting percentage (47-for-59), the Jayhawks rank third in the nation (through Thursday’s games) in field goal percentage at .519. Sophomore guard Devon Dotson is leading the Big 12 Conference in scoring at 19.7 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from the field (44-for-88).
Despite Loyola’s hot shooting on Wednesday, the Buffs still are limiting their opponents to 56.3 points per game and a .378 mark from the field. Those marks will be put to the test by a Kansas squad that hasn’t scored fewer than 71 points in all six games since a season-opening 68-66 loss against Duke.
“This is a very big opportunity. They’re ranked No. 2 in the country, and we’ve just got to take advantage of this opportunity,” CU junior forward Tyler Bey said. “We have to show we are capable of being the team people say we are. It’s also going to show us how we’ve matured from last season. I definitely think we can learn a lot from this game, win or lose. Because they’re a great team, and we want to go out there and compete.”
No. 20 CU Buffs at No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks
TIPOFF: Saturday, 5 p.m. MT, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 7-0; Kansas 6-1.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (196-123, 252-189 overall); Kansas — Bill Self, 17th season (479-107, 686-212).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — F Tyler Bey, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg; 2.4 apg; G McKinley Wright, Jr., 12.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 12.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 14-for-27 on 3-pointers. Kansas — G Devon Dotson, So., 19.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 4.0 rpg; C Udoka Azubuike, Sr., 15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, .797 field goal percentage; G Marcus Garrett, Jr., 10.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.0 apg.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs are holding its opponents to a .378 mark from the field. KU ranks third in the nation (through Thursday) in field goal percentage at .519. Whichever club finishes closer to its norm likely will be the one to emerge victorious.
NOTES: This is the opener of a home-and-home set that concludes in Boulder next year…This is CU’s first true road game of the season…Wright needs just three points to become the 35th CU player to score 1,000 points in his career…KU’s Dotson is the reigning Big 12 Conference Player of the Week. In the Jayhawks three wins while winning the title at the Maui Invitational last week, Dotson averaged 21 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Dotson was the co-MVP of the tournament along with Azubuike…Dotson is 40-for-46 at the free throw line…KU owns a 24-game home win streak, the third-longest in the country…The Jayhawks have had more than a week off since defeating Dayton in overtime on Nov. 27 in the championship game of the Maui Invitational…Allen Fieldhouse has hosted 294 consecutive sellouts…CU returns home to face Northern Iowa on Tuesday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).