60-59.... That score has haunted me since January of 2003. It started out as a good thing... a win over nationally ranked Kansas that eventually lead to an NCAA tournament appearance (albeit a brief one). But, slowly over the past seven years, that score, or more precisely that game, has haunted my dreams.
It was almost deja vu all over again last night. Kansas was in the building, exhausted from the weight of a high (in this case #1) ranking on their shoulders, in a year that has seen a number of top teams stumble (including Kansas themselves earlier in the year). Through grit, determination, and some impressive coaching, the Buffs found themselves with a 60-59 lead with less than a minute left.
(For reference, that's what grit looks like. From: The Daily Camera)
60-59... in the seven years since Stephane Pelle drained his jumper, I never thought I'd see that score in a CU-KU game again... I had imagined that that game was some unicorn of an event that would elude me forever. But there it was again last night... staring me in the face. I tried to convince myself that in all reality that score couldn't last the 55 seconds remaining in the game, someone would have to score, but just the memory gave me the shakes.
It wasn't to last, Sherron Collins hit the second of his two free throws with 38 seconds on the clock to wipe away the possibility of 60-59 being the final. Cory Higgins would miss a pitiful look at a long 3 with 2 seconds left, and the Buffs would go on to fall in overtime.
I don't mean to get lost in the shuffle of my longing for moments past, it just tends to happen that way. More importantly, that's not what I take away from last nights game.
What I do take away from last night is the tremendous effort put forth by the Buffs. If you would've given me 500-1 odds on a $50 bet that the buffs would out-rebound the #1 Jayhawks through 40 minutes of play, I still wouldn't have taken it, yet Marcus Relphorde and a revolving door of big men, crashed the boards with tenacity.
But, there were even more bright spots. Casey Crawford and Austin Dufalt(!) made All-American KU center Cole Aldrich's time in Boulder a living hell. Levi Knutson actually hit multiple open shots in a game(!). And, outside of the final 4 minutes and overtime, Nate Tomlinson showed why he's one of the best point guards in the Big XII. It was a performance that I hadn't believed was possible.
But in the end, a loss is, as "they" say, a loss. Just another missed opportunity.
It does comfort a little to remember that Al Burks (for the record, I call him Al), and his near 17 points a game, was out. Perhaps the re-match 16 days from now in Lawrence will have a better outcome in store, or possibly next year will finally show as the year those single-digit losses become wins. Either way, being 70% good and constantly coming close to, but not actually, breaking through is starting the get old.