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By: Joel Broida
CU coach Tad Boyle wants more commitment from his 1-3 Buffs team.
Brooks: Buffs Face 'Totally Different' Huskies Team
Release: January 15, 2013
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
BOULDER - Few will argue that timing is everything, but Tad Boyle doesn't want to hear that this might not be the most opportune time to take his Colorado basketball team to Seattle. The Pac-12 Conference schedule has the Buffs at Washington on Wednesday night . . . and that's that.

CU will show up - Boyle, of course, is hoping for more - at the Alaska Airlines Arena for its latest tip-time of the season (9:30 p.m. MST) and try to rekindle some of the grit, commitment and efficiency that seem to have waned since 2013 arrived.

UW, meanwhile, is not waning or wanting in many areas. But more on the white-hot Huskies in a bit.

Just for kicks, flip the calendar back about 21/2 months to late November when Larry Eustachy and his Colorado State guys visited Seattle to play U-Dub. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was patching together a lineup minus senior co-captain Scott Suggs, arguably UW's best perimeter defender, and power forward Shawn Kemp, Jr., whom Romar has called "potentially our best low-post scorer."

Suggs was out with a sprained arch tendon in his right foot, Kemp with a torn right patellar tendon. CSU didn't win a sleepwalk in Seattle, but it was close: Rams 73, Huskies 55. Good victory for CSU, which visited CU two weeks later and lost, 70-61.

That was then and since, Suggs has returned to Romar's starting lineup while the 6-9 Kemp still appears to be working himself back into form. But the Huskies are unquestionably - these are Boyle's words - "a totally different team than in non-conference."

Part of that is due to what Suggs brings back - he's averaging 12.2 points - and part of it attributable to the play of C.J. Wilcox, the conference's scoring leader (21.3 ppg). Aziz N'Diaye, a 7-foot senior, is averaging 11.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. But it was Wilcox who almost singlehandedly pushed UW past Stanford last weekend, scoring 13 of his team's final 15 points in the 65-60 win and finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds.

UW (3-0) is one of three unbeaten Pac-12 teams, joining Oregon (3-0) and UCLA (4-0). But put the Huskies' perfect mark alongside those of the Ducks and the Bruins and a rather large difference is obvious: UW has yet to play a home conference game. The Huskies, 11-5 overall, have won at Washington State, at California and at Stanford - the latter 'W' giving UW its first 3-0 road start in league play since 1912.

Yes, the sun is shining in Seattle.

The Huskies, winners in nine of their past 11 games, haven't played at home since Dec. 22. Consider the welcome mat laid out invitingly for the Buffs, who also are 11-5 overall but 1-3 in the Pac-12 and trying to avoid a tailspin during a stretch that has them on the road for five of their next seven games.

Boyle isn't into looking that far ahead. "We'll play them as they come; (UW) is the next game and we have to be focused there," he said. "I'm not going to get caught up in how many are left, who's won on the road or at home. We have to figure out a way to compete."

Neither will Boyle rise to the bait of this being a "desperation" trip for the Buffs: "We're not in desperation mode; we're not going to hit the panic button," he said. "What we have to understand is why we are where we are and what we need to do to put ourselves in position to win games."

CU's leading rebounder, Andre Roberson, begs to differ on the desperation angle: "This trip is very desperate at this point . . . losing a game to UCLA at home (78-75 last Saturday) is definitely a big loss. We've got to get this thing turned around as quickly as possible. Washington is definitely beatable, but we have to get on the right page."

If you have a team and its coach disagreeing on anything, desperation in his players' approach to a road trip might be the one area that can put a gleam in Boyle's eye. He's been desperately trying to get the Buffs to play with more overall commitment and a tougher mental edge, intangibles he sees as lacking in Pac-12 play. If desperation delivers that, then by all means bring it to Seattle.

But, noted Boyle, "With all that being said, it's a fine, fine line as to why we are where we are. It's not like our offense is broken or our defense is not good enough. We're not doing the little things consistently enough to win close games or put ourselves in position where we're up six or eight points coming down the stretch."

On the mental toughness issue, much of that has been absent since the departure of Aussie point guard Nate Tomlinson, who brought a nasty streak as big as the outback. Almost daily, Tomlinson tried Boyle's patience as a coach, but he also delivered an on-court belligerence that worked.

Boyle had a recent conversation with one of his players about playing tougher and taking on a leadership role. The player, Boyle recalled, said he had played with Nate and that he was a prick." Boyle's response: Yeah, but in a very good way; it was among Tomlinson's values to that team - and it's among the things this team is lacking.

"Nate didn't care about scoring, didn't care about shooting," Boyle said. "All Nate wanted to do was win. The thing about Nate is he had enough nastiness to him and competitiveness to him that he held his teammates accountable to what we wanted to get done. We miss Nate a lot, and I knew we would.

"We don't have that guy right now who's calling his teammates out because we don't have anybody on the team that's doing it consistently enough for his teammates to listen to him."

Roberson and Chen can fill that role, Boyle said, and sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie "to a degree." Roberson called Tomlinson "a special guy, but every person's different. He had a special characteristic that helped this team a lot. I feel like we don't have a guy like that this year; we have to go about it with a different type of leadership."

The day after CU's loss to UCLA, Roberson, a junior, and senior Sabatino Chen conducted a players' only meeting to allow the Buffs to discuss among themselves the reasons for their 1-3 conference start. Roberson said all of his teammates had their say, calling the half hour meeting productive.

"I think we're kind of soul-searching right now," said freshman post Josh Scott. "We got things sorted out (in the meeting), but we're still working. We need to win these next (two) games. There's a lot of season left."

Scott, who has averaged 14.3 points in 6.5 rebounds in the four conference games, was a CU signee last spring when the Buffs made their four-game run to the Pac-12 tournament championship then played two more in the NCAA tournament. He was more than an interested observer as he watched his team-to-be.

"I watched a lot of the season, and I remember they had their struggles just as much as we have," Scott said. "They pulled it together in the last six games of the year, but hopefully we can do it before the last six games so we don't have to win the Pac-12 championship (to get the NCAAs). If they can do it, we can do it right now and turn this around.

"I think there's a certain type of toughness that's been lacking. I think there's some 'toughness plays' that we need to be making. Yeah, there's some toughness lacking that we need to identify."

Starting the ID process late Wednesday night in Seattle would be timely. Continuing it Saturday night at Washington State would be nice, too. No doubt at 1-3 the Buffs are in a hole, but daylight is still visible . . . for now.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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