Kansas week was here, and you could feel the tension in the Dark Horse prior to the game. Everyone seemed to be asking the same question.
Just how many Colorado season ticket holders would give in to the temptation of big money offers and hand off their tickets to those wearing blue and red colors?
You see, throughout most of Colorado’s tenure in the Big XII, the Coors Event Center echoed like an empty hallway, but when Kansas came to town, it bellowed with celebration. Loud cheers, intimidating chants, a worthy atmosphere for a college basketball game. An outsider would be impressed, but anyone inside knew better.
That sound you’d hear? That was Kansas fans, dominating a road environment like nothing I’ve ever seen, they transformed our home, made it Allen Fieldhouse West. The few faithful Buffs students despised the Jayhawks, but fought a hopeless uphill battle, easily drowned out by the dominance of the opposing fans.
Nineteen times in a row Kansas had outmatched Colorado. Even worse, just once in the last 46 tries, had Colorado come away victorious, in 2003.
Kansas represented everything Colorado longed to be: victorious, revered, storied. They were the class of the Big XII conference, a perennial power, a perennial national title contender.
Conference re-alignment broke the repetitive cycle, the Buffs left for the Pac-12 and Kansas and the rest of the Big XII was left behind. Tad Boyle, who’d arrived in Boulder to chauffeur the Buffs through their final season in the Big XII, led Colorado to a 5th place finish and a berth in the Big XII Tournament semi-finals, a statement to the conference that our presence would be missed.
Of course, Kansas would be the program to hand Colorado it’s final Big XII loss, eliminating them one final time.
In the short years to follow, Boyle and Colorado would build their resume, earning back to back NCAA Tournament berths, winning a Pac12 conference tournament, and earning themselves a national ranking early on last season.
But yet again, they’d find Kansas on their schedule, and the results were no different. Colorado traveled to Lawrence, KS looking to make a statement that this wasn’t the Colorado program the Big XII had witnessed for decades.
The Buffs apparently lost the speech along the way, and the game was over before it even started. Colorado would return home with their tails between their legs, the victim of another Kansas Jayhawks beat down.
Fast forward to Saturday, we’re back at the Dark Horse, and Buffs fans are nervous. Social media speaks out, proclaiming that Coors Event Center is sporting a lot of blue an hour before tip-off. The athletic department, the diehards, and even Tad Boyle were concerned about Kansas taking over, each making repeated statements that if you were inclined to sell your seats, to please keep them in the Buffalo family.
The C-Unit is ready for war. Forty minutes before game time, they’ve filled every single seat. As we arrive at Coors, I’m shocked with the crowd, there’s some blue, but nowhere near what I expected. I reserve judgment as there are still thousands of seats to be filled.
As tip-off approaches, it becomes inherently clear, Colorado had done it, Allen Fieldhouse West was no more. There were MAYBE 500 Jayhawks in the building, scattered throughout besides a decent contingent in the general admission seats.
The Buffs started flat, but there were no nerves in the gym. The crowd stayed involved, destroying Kansas runs, eliminating their fan base from relevance. Slowly, Colorado crawled back into contention, and soon enough, we had a ball game.
The Kansas front-court possessed two sure-fire NBA lottery picks, and another who was essentially a lock to be taken in the 1st round. Colorado was without Wesley Gordon, their starting PF and easily the team’s best interior defender. On paper, we had no chance inside, but on the court, it didn’t matter. Colorado fought for every rebound, attacking relentlessly. Xavier Johnson played his best game of the year, overcoming physical disadvantages and out-willing his opponent. Ben Mills played valuable minutes throughout the first half, scoring 4 points and snatching 3 rebounds, and more importantly, silencing Kansas’ Joel Embiid, who had been dominating the interior throughout the half.
Feeding off the crowd, Colorado built themselves an 9 point lead with 9:00 minutes remaining in the game. Kansas would rally, staging a 9-0 run to tie the game up, and finally, the Kansas fans could be heard in the building. The Buffs would quickly rebound, fueling a run of their own to regain control of the ballgame.
Spencer Dinwiddie took the reigns down the stretch, repeatedly attacking the rim, fouling out Embiid. On this day, though, we struggled to finish from the line. We missed 15 FTs, a sure way to let a program like Kansas hang around, and sure enough, it bit us. Kansas hit a few tough looks, and found a way to secure two buckets off offensive rebounds down the stretch. After another Dinwiddie miss from the charity stripe, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins raced up the floor with seconds ticking and launched a deep three.
It was woefully short. But the whistle blew. Dinwiddie had fouled him, and down three, he had three chances to tie the game in the final seconds.
Attempt 1: Off the back rim, straight into the air, and right through the hoop. Wow.
Attempt 2: Off the back rim, Colorado avoids complete disaster.
Attempt 3: Swish.
On the other end, Kansas fouled Booker and he drained the first FT, putting the Buffs up 2. The second one rattled out, and Kansas had a chance to steal the game. Coming out of the timeout, they found Perry Ellis on a high pick and pop, he attacked the rim and finished a tough layup over Josh Scott.
Tie ball game.
This game was going to overtime, and Colorado had blown their chance to take out the one team they’d failed to conquer. Letting a game like that get away… your focus is gone for OT. The air from the crowd pops like a balloon, they know this feeling.
With three seconds left and the ball on the other end of the court, Colorado had little hope for a miracle. Xavier Johnson would inbound, and he snuck a pass to Askia Booker.
One beautiful Euro step later, and the rest is history.
This student radio call of the shot perfectly depicts the importance of this game… and also provided my face with some Knowshon Moreno tears…enjoy!
The question remains, was this the most important victory in the history of the program? Considering the opponent, considering the press, considering the #21 ranking in the AP poll it garnered?
Sure, we’ve won Tournament games, and those are huge. Sure, we’ve beaten teams higher ranked than Kansas (#6) was on Saturday. But this game just means more, at least to me, than any of those, all factors considered. It’s a statement that Colorado finally got to make.
We’re here, we’re finally here.