Colorado growing as a program in the Pac-12
BOULDER, Colo. — Take a look around the Coors Events Center and it won’t take long to realize Colorado’s place in NCAA basketball history.
While McKale Center houses the 1997 NCAA National Championship Trophy and displays the jerseys of Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott and Damon Stoudamire in its rafters, Colorado’s arena features no such accomplishments.
The Buffs’ poster boy is Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups. An enormous shot of Billups in his No. 4 Buffs jersey is pasted underneath the northeast scoreboard and his jersey hangs in the rafters.
But the names next to Billups tell the story of where Colorado places on the NCAA totem pole.
To the left of Billups hang the jerseys of Jim Davis, Ken Charlton, Burdie Haldorson, Charles Gardner, Cliff Meely, Robert Jeangerard and Scott Wedman. Those aren’t exactly household names.
Colorado’s captured only five conference titles in program history. The Buffs have only made the big dance 10 times and the NIT eight times.
But that’s changed under second-year coach Tad Boyle. Colorado has morphed into a program on the rise.
“They’re very well-coached,” UA head coach Sean Miller said after Arizona’s 64-63 loss on Saturday. “They have a blend of some of the oldest, most experienced players in our league, they have very good young players. They’re a good team.”
It wasn’t always that way. One local reporter said when the Buffs were part of the Big 12 Conference, the arena rarely filled up, and when it did, more than half of the crowd was Kansas or Texas fans.
But on Saturday, that wasn’t the case.
“They have an incredible home court here,” Miller said. “I give a lot of credit to Colorado.”
The Buffs faithful waved their golden towels proudly in the air. Cheerleaders shot T-shirts into the stands and gave away free Chipotle burritos. The student section read newspapers during the UA’s starting lineups, and even hoisted an oversized Billups head a la ZonaZoo.
After years and years of mediocrity, basketball is finally fun again in Boulder.
“It’s a great place. That crowd is great,” said UA guard Kyle Fogg, who finished the game with 16 points on 3-of-12 shooting. “The student section was really into it. I think that definitely had a factor in the game.”
With a revitalized arena and senior Carlon Brown, sophomore Andre Roberson and freshman Spencer Dinwiddie as its three-headed monster, CU basketball is finally on the map.
Boyle, who played under legendary coach Larry Brown at Kansas, used a 24-14 2010-11 season, an NCAA Tournament snub and a conference change to push this team toward March Madness.
Although it seems odd to see Colorado at third place in the Pac-12 and 13-6 overall, the Buffs are the real deal and they proved that on Saturday.
UA forward Jesse Perry, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, called CU a “great defensive team” and, like Fogg and Miller, applauded the Buffs’ hostile environment.
If Colorado continues trending up, it’s only a matter of time before Billups isn’t the only recognizable face or name in the Coors Events Center.