BOULDER — After another infuriating last-minute loss and another surge of frustration, Ricardo Patton searched his mind for words but could only find regret.
“I’d like to apologize to the fans, to you the media and to anyone who cares about Colorado basketball,” the Buffs coach said after Saturday’s 78-73 loss to Iowa State. “It has been a very disappointing year for everyone, but I can assure you it’s not any more disappointing
for you than it is for me and the team.”
Although the loss ended CU’s regular season with a sub-par 13-15 record and the worst Big 12 finish in school history, such admission of guilt was strange considering the Buffs play Texas at 7:20 p.m. Thursday in the conference tournament where, technically, they can earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
But after four months coaching an inexperienced team that could never scale its learning curve, Patton appeared to have lost hope.
“There are some bright spots on this team that we will continue to build upon to get back to our winning ways,” he said. “This is the youngest and most inexperienced team I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Such inexperience was on display Saturday against the Cyclones, who wrapped up the fifth seed in the Big 12 tournament with the win and improved their chances for an NCAA berth.
But even though the Buffs were outmanned — and nearly out-fanned by a horde of ISU backers — they had two strong opportunities in the final minute, and botched both.
The first came with the Buffs down a point with 42 seconds left. Instead of relying on its defense to stop ISU, Colorado elected to foul, putting sophomore guard Will Blalock — who made all six of his foul shots Saturday — on the line with 33 seconds on the clock.
Although Patton said it wasn’t his idea to foul in that spot, he wasn’t in the mood to justify his decisions.
“I don’t know if I want to talk game strategies with (the media) or anybody else,” Patton said. “You have your own set of ideas and agendas.”
The Buffs’ other opportunity came with no shot clock and CU down by three points. Instead of waiting for a clear look, junior Andy Osborn took a frantic 3-pointer with 22 seconds left, missed it, and gave ISU the ball and the game.
“I threw it up. It was terrible. I’m not going to lie about that,” said Osborn, who led the Buffs with 14 points and keyed their late run.
The close defeat was especially frustrating on the heels of CU’s 84-82 loss to Kansas State a week before. Although the Buffs have found a way to be competitive late in games, they’ve been unable to win one decided by fewer than nine points in more than a month.
“It’s not the first game we’ve been right there with a minute or two left,” said CU guard Marcus Hall, who finished with 10 points. “I think it just comes down to inexperience.”
While the Buffs lacked anyone with a strong scoring presence Saturday — ISU held freshman Richard Roby to just 10 points — the Cyclones had three players — Blalock, Curtis Stinson and Tasheed Carr — score at least 20 points.
ISU also had just two turnovers in the second half while forcing 10, allowing the Cyclones to dismantle CU’s halftime lead.
“We needed to have this game,” ISU coach Wayne Morgan said. “It was a critical, key game. Without it, I wouldn’t be so sure (of his chances at an NCAA berth).”
The Buffs’ postseason hopes are all but dead, however. To make the NCAA Tournament, CU will have to win the Big 12 Tournament as an 11th seed.
Even a berth in the National Invitation Tournament is unlikely, as the Buffs would have to lose in the championship game in order to achieve a winning overall record.
So with frustration swelling and optimism waning, the only thing left to do was apologize.
Arrington out: CU junior Lamont Arrington did not play Saturday because he fainted in the locker room prior to the game and was taken to a nearby hospital. He was feeling better Saturday afternoon and should be able to play in the conference tournament.