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Losses like the one-point one the CU basketball team suffered to CSU in November 2005 are not forgotten easily. But on Saturday night at the Coors Events Center, more than a year after last year’s meltdown, the Buffs will finally have a chance to exact revenge on their in-state arch-enemies.
“This is definitely a huge game for both teams,” said junior guard Richard Roby, CU’s leading scorer through eight games this year. “There’s going to be a lot of intensity, almost like a conference game.”
Though intensity in the annual rivalry is a given, this year’s game should have a much different feel than contests in years past. CU, after losing 10 seniors at the end of last season, is fielding the youngest team in the program’s 108-year history. Though the team has had flashes of excellence in the early part of the season, the Buffs’ inexperience is reflected in the team’s 3-5 record. The Rams, on the other hand, have won five straight games, en route to rolling to a 6-2 record. The rivalry that exists between these two teams, however, usually brings out a fire in both teams that make records and past performance obsolete.
“Typically, during the past years, you could throw records out the window. You could throw stats out the windows,” head coach Richard Patton said before the Buffs’ practice on Wednesday. “Teams tend to play a little different against their in-state rivals.”
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Rams are coming into Boulder on a red-hot tear. During their streak, CSU has not exactly been squeaking out their wins; led by 7-foot junior Jason Smith, the Rams have posted a 10.6-point average margin of victory. Smith, who leads the Rams with 17.4 points per game, was just named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week. Patton knows, however, that focusing a game plan on stopping one player does not guarantee success.
“I never use the term ‘shut a player down,’” Patton said of Jason Smith. “Good players are going to be good players, especially if they learn how to be consistent. What I like to say is to not let players have career nights against you.”
Unfortunately for the Buffs, the exact opposite happened in last year’s game against CSU. Despite holding Smith to 16 points, CU let then-sophomore Sean Morris go on a rampage, draining nine 3-pointers and finishing with 34 points in all. The Buffs know that they will have to minimize damage from players on a deep CSU team if they want to stay in the game this year.
“They have a good inside-outside game,” Roby said. “They have a lot of talent. They’re really clicking right now, so we just have to come out ready to play and be prepared for 40 minutes of battle.”
Roby is averaging a healthy 18.1 points a game, but there is a significant drop-off in scoring between him and senior Dominique Coleman, who is second on the Buffs with 11.1 points per game. The Buffs will need younger players like sophomore Jermyl Jackson-Wilson to keep up with CSU on Saturday. Last weekend, the scrappy Jackson-Wilson hit the game-winning shot in the waning seconds of the contest against the University of Northern Colorado and added seven rebounds, six blocks, four assists and three steals.
“Jermyl plays hard every day, never takes a possession off,” said Roby. “You need guys like that on your team – hard working, blue-collar guys.”
“He’s doing a nice job,” added Patton. “His shot was huge, and with a young team like we have, one of the things we have to understand is that we’re going to have to grind every game until we hit that learning curve.”