Big 12 Basketball Tournament: Colorado Buffaloes To Battle Kansas Jayhawks

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Big 12 Basketball Tournament: Colorado Buffaloes To Battle Kansas Jayhawks
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Alec Burks had 24 points Thursday against Kansas State, while Cory Higgins scored 28.

I was reduced to following Colorado's game against the Kansas State Wildcats Thursday on ESPN's mobile gamecast.  

It pained me to think I might miss out on the last game of the season, and I almost wanted to throw up when I thought that the short Higgins-Burks era could end on Thursday.

Don't get me wrong: it's been a good year. The Buffs reached 20 wins for the first time since 2006 and have been a national top-20 scoring team nearly all season.

This year, though, those accomplishments are just not good enough. If Burks leaves after this season, and he almost certainly will if the NBA doesn't lockout, then it'll take at least a couple years for the Buffs to get back to their current level.

The Buffs last made the NCAA Tournament in 2003, with a team of star players that went on to play just a few minutes in the NBA.

This year, Colorado has a potential lottery pick, the best CU basketball player since Chauncey Billups. Fans will feel robbed if the Buffs don’t make it to the tournament. 

Just a few years ago, 20 wins would have been a spectacular accomplishment for CU.  Now, it would be a letdown if the Buffs didn’t at least handle Kansas State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

As I was fretting over these issues, Alec Burks took the ball down the floor and laid it in to make the score 32-31 with just over four minutes left in the first half. A few seconds later, he hit a three-pointer to extend the lead to four against the Wildcats.

I had to give myself a good slap in the face after that one.

I knew then he wouldn’t let the Buffs lose to Kansas State, because great players always find a way to win. This guy’s going to be a lottery pick for a reason.  

Case in point: Burks stepped up for the lagging Buffs on Wednesday night against Iowa State. He scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half to carry the team to its 20th win of the season, 77-75 over the Cyclones.

As it turned out, the Golden Buffaloes beat Kansas State 87-75 Thursday and will face the Kansas Jayhawks Friday at 7 p.m. for the right to face what will probably be the Texas Longhorns on Saturday night for the conference title.

The game against Kansas will most likely be the last matchup of the two before the Buffs leave for the Pac-12.  

It's one of the most exciting scenarios imaginable: the Buffs, having lost countless tough games against KU over the last few years, will get their last shot on Friday with both Alec Burks and Cory Higgins (the two best CU basketball players in 14 years) in their last year together.

Kansas will present the Buffs with their biggest challenge of the season. 

Unlike last time the teams met, Friday night’s game is a must-win. After losing 82-78 to the Jayhawks on January 25th, the Buffs were squashed 89-63 in the rematch 27 days later.

Any prediction or analysis here would be nearly worthless; the 2011 Buffs are one of the most unpredictable Colorado sports teams in recent memory (the blowout loss to Harvard followed by 13 wins in 14 games, and the last three Iowa State games). 

Jason Giambi could start at point guard and score 30 points Friday, and I really wouldn’t be surprised.

Regardless, it could be Alec Burks' last game for CU. Whatever happens, it’s been fun having him here.

Before we say goodbye, though, we’ve got Colorado-Kansas one last time in the Big 12. The Buffs have never come so close to beating an elite team so many times over the years as they have with Kansas.

 It’s a perfect time for that one big victory.

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