Coach Jeff Bzdelik makes successful return as Colorado beats Air Force 60-50
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)—Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik wanted a shirt like the Air Force fans were wearing, with his photo splashed on the front and a giant red “x” across the likeness.
“But they told me I had to buy it,” Bzdelik said.
Nothing comes free for former coaches.
Bzdelik weathered the taunts and jeers and Richard Roby scored a season-high 21 points as Colorado escaped with a 60-50 victory over Air Force on Thursday night in Bzdelik’s return to Clune Arena.
He’s just glad to have this game over and done with. Bzdelik coached two seasons at Air Force before bolting for the Buffaloes last April.
“When I said it was another game, I wasn’t telling the truth,” said Bzdelik, who was 50-16 while at Air Force. “My emotions were all over the map. I truly love this place.”
The Air Force cadets sat close to the Buffaloes’ bench and heckled Bzdelik all game. The fans held up signs that read, “Welcome home, traitor.”
He understood their feelings, even if his players didn’t.
“They disrespected our coach and we weren’t going to have that,” Roby said.
Bzdelik warned his team of the hostile environment, and the Buffaloes handled it well, snapping the Falcons’ 38-game home winning streak against non-conference foes.
“I told our players I’ve never seen a fan come out of the stands to block a shot or grab a rebound,” Bzdelik said. “Embrace the atmosphere, be fearless, have poise and you all have to bond together in a greater way.”
The Buffaloes (5-2) did precisely that. They were also motivated by Air Force’s 84-46 dismantling of them last season in Boulder.
“They beat us bad,” Roby said. “We wanted to win for ourselves and our coach.”
Roby did his part, hitting 7-of-9 shots. He’s now 14-for-20 over his last two games.
“When I get confident, the rim looks like an ocean to me,” Roby said.
Marcus Hall finished with 18 points and freshman Levi Knutson knocked down two key 3-pointers late in the game to turn back an Air Force charge.
“It’s good to come in here and get a win in a place where that doesn’t happen too often,” Hall said.
Reserve Andrew Henke scored a career-high 18 points, hitting four 3-pointers, and Evan Washington added 11.
The Falcons (5-3) never led in the game in part to their struggles at the free throw line, where they finished 7-for-17.
“We just missed shots that we typically don’t miss and we missed more free throws than we typically do,” Air Force first-year coach Jeff Reynolds said. “We need to grow up now and mature as a basketball team.”
Air Force senior Tim Anderson said there was no extra incentive to beat Bzdelik’s Buffaloes. He’s the lone starter to return off last year’s team that won a school-record 26 games.
“It was a basketball game,” Anderson said. “We lost to an opponent. No extra emotions at all. You have to put the sideshow aside and just come out and play basketball. He had them prepared.”
Bzdelik didn’t miss the opportunity to tell his former Air Force players his feelings for them. He spent a little extra time with each player as he shook their hands after the game.
“I admire them so much and respect them so much,” Bzdelik said. “They’re going to overachieve in a big way.”
Even though the student section taunted and teased him all night, Bzdelik still had nothing but respect for them.
“I told them I admire them and appreciate what they’re doing for us citizens in protecting our freedom and serving our country,” Bzdelik said. “I mean that.”
Yet the kind words weren’t enough to get him a free shirt.
They were going to make him pay, just like everyone else.