Colorado's karma good in upset of KU

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
11:15
PM ET


A year later, Colorado finally got the reversal it deserved. The buzzer-beater it was owed finally, officially counted. The upset it earned was finally recorded as a win.

OK, so it has been more like 11 months. And, OK, the officials didn't have anything to do with it. Colorado's Jan. 3 loss to Arizona -- when Buffaloes guard Sabatino Chen banked in a last-millisecond 3-pointer that looked like it should have counted, but was stunningly reversed -- didn't, say, get an official review from the NCAA that passed just this week. Horrifyingly plausible though that scenario might seem.

No, Colorado's lost upset was remitted karmically. The funds hit the account in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday afternoon just before 5:30 p.m. ET, and boy did they make a splash.

[+] EnlargeAskia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie
Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesAskia Booker's face says it all: He hit the winning 3 at the buzzer as Colorado stunned Kansas.
Fortunately, Askia Booker's Euro-stepping, buzzer-beating 3-pointer -- the one that gave Colorado a 75-72 walk-off win and sent Colorado students careening to the Coors Event Center floor -- should be less controversial than Chen's was in January, even if it didn't look that way at first. Live, Booker's shot looked like a travel (not that it could have been reviewed, anyway). But the replay soon made clear that he had (somehow) wrong-footed his two-step pre-shot maneuver, gliding past Kansas's Frank Mason at mid-court just before (again: somehow) flicking the ball into the Buffs' home net. It was Manu Ginobili-style stuff, and even Manu would have had second thoughts about the technique.

"It felt really good," Booker said just afterward, as he was swarmed by fans, teammates and the ESPN broadcast crew.

He was talking about the release of the shot, not its result, but the phrase surely applies to both. Insane as the final play was, it was preceded by 39 minutes, 57 seconds of efficient, tidy, advantage-seeking basketball from the Buffaloes. Colorado scored 1.17 points per possession, avoiding turnovers on all but 12.5 percent of their offensive trips. They were balanced, too: Four starters finished with either 14 (Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott) or 15 (Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie) points apiece.

Which is not to say they were always pretty. Colorado shot only 41 percent, 31 percent from 3. How, then, did Tad Boyle's manage its efficiency? Not from fluidity, but assertion. Kansas' main defensive weakness to date -- really, its chief weakness as a team -- is its tendency to foul. The Jayhawks were whistled for 26 fouls on Saturday, 13 in each half. One late, key stretch was dominated by fouls: Dinwiddie blew by a Kansas defender and muscled his way to the rim, earning a foul and knocking down two free throws. With 1:44 left, his drive sent Kansas center Joel Embiid to the sideline. The Buffaloes shot 37 free throws. They made only 22, but they were enough.

Kansas' collection of young talent showed plenty of flaws. The Jayhawks are struggling from beyond the arc: They entered Saturday averaging 30.7 percent from 3, and their 5-of-20 night in Boulder won't raise that tally. Kansas' outside shooting woes have helped opposing teams take away its chief strength -- namely, its insane one-on-one talent.

Andrew Wiggins had one of his best games on Saturday. He is the rare player whose games can seem both impressive and oddly quiet at the same time. He finished with 22 points and five rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting.

But it was only occasionally -- as in his late half-court-length drive that ended in an effortlessly improvised left-handed finish. Maybe three players in the country could conceive of putting that play together, and you watch Kansas waiting for more. But because the Jayhawks can't stretch the floor and force teams to guard them man-to-man, Wiggins' lithe frame is often wasted on the perimeter. He floats.

Beyond that? The Jayhawks foul to their own detriment far too often; their high-screen defense was wildly suspect, both at the point of attack and in rotation; and, despite their physical advantages, they were outrebounded on both ends on Saturday. This is Bill Self's youngest team. It shows, subtly and not.

And yet Self, once he has processed the sting of the loss, can probably walk away from Boulder feeling pretty good. Last Saturday, after a limp trip to the Bahamas, Self was openly disappointed in his team's energy, its effort, his coaching, the whole nine. A few days later, his young team executed well down the stretch in an environment far more hostile than the Atlantis casino floor. The game was tied, after all, thanks to his clever play-calling out of a timeout and forward Perry Ellis' decisive finish with 5 seconds remaining. Colorado is a good and well-coached team. The Buffaloes are experienced; Dinwiddie and Booker are excellent. True road games are brutal. And so on.

Self gave his young group the toughest schedule in the country this season for a reason: He'll happily trade a loss or two for learning. He can say as much about Saturday's trip to Boulder, and while he'll hope for a different outcome Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla., against Billy Donovan's Gators, he might acquiesce to the same trade there.

After all, sometimes the game you claw into overtime doesn't get there. Sometimes, some basketball god somewhere owes your opponent a year-old debt, and sometimes that debt is repaid at your expense.

The game owed Colorado a buzzer-beating upset. Saturday, finally, the Buffs got what they deserved.

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