BOULDER – Tad Boyle likes it fast, Larry Shyatt likes it slow. The hare finally took down the tortoise Wednesday night, but it was hardly the hoops version of the Indy 500 and it was anything but picturesque.
Boyle’s Colorado Buffs, perennial losers to Shyatt’s Wyoming Cowboys, encountered nearly night-long difficulty finding offensive consistency. But the Buffs dialed up their defense in the second half, hit their free throws when needed and exited the Coors Events Center with what Boyle labeled a homely 63-58 win.
“If you guys are looking for the definition of the phrase ‘winning ugly’ I think you saw it tonight,” he said afterward. “It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t our best effort, but I was really proud of our guys for finding a way down the stretch to win the game.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Larry Shyatt, the University of Wyoming and their program. They play us tough every year and it was good to get a win against them. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty but we’ll take it, we’ll learn and we’ll move on and we’ll get better. I’ve said many times you’d rather learn from a win than learn from a loss and I think our players understand that.”
The Cowboys – staunch believers in low-possession, low-scoring games – had defeated the Buffs six straight times. Payback came Wednesday night, but it didn’t come easily for CU, which trailed by 10 points in the first half and got its final seven points on free throws (7-of-12) in the game’s last 3:06. The Buffs hit 24-of-34 free throws for the game to the Cowboys’ 11-of-15.
Junior Spencer Dinwiddie made five of his eight free throw attempts during the final 3:06, finishing with a team-high 15 points. He was 10-of-13 from the free throw line, taking all of his foul shots in the second half, when the Buffs rallied from a 31-26 deficit at intermission largely on their performance on the defensive end.
“We’ve gone 0-3 against (Wyoming) since I’ve been here,” Dinwiddie said. “It was a big game for us. I know I said earlier they aren’t a rival and I stick by that. But at the same time they are a really big game. Really, anything is a big game; we’re glad we won.”
Three other Buffs starters backed up Dinwiddie with double-figure scoring efforts – Askia Booker with 14, Xavier Johnson with 13 and Josh Scott with 12. The Buffs outrebounded the Cowboys 35-24, with Scott grabbing nine boards and Dinwiddie adding seven.
With Wyoming switching defenses and forcing CU to attack a zone and get to the free throw line for the bulk of its offense, the Buffs managed only four assists in 40 minutes. It was CU’s lowest total since having just two in a 1977 game at Jacksonville in a one-point win. CU’s bench was outscored by Wyoming’s 16-3, which Boyle attributed in part to his “shortening” his bench in the second half due to most of his top reserves being freshmen.
CU shot 40 percent (18-of-45) for the game but held Wyoming to 38.1 percent (8-of-21) in the second half – and that, noted Boyle, was key.
“In the second half, the defense was the difference in the game,” he said, adding that his team gave up nine layups in the first half – two more than its goal for the game. “We gave up three layups in the second half . . . when we ran our offense and executed our offense, we shot 50 percent in the second half and those are good numbers.”
Guard Josh Adams, of Parker, Colo., led Wyoming with 15 points, followed by Larry Nance Jr. with 10. Adams said the Buffs’ ability to reach the free throw line “always makes it difficult. They have a lot of great athletes, a lot of quick kids and a lot of kids with size. They were able to get to the line more than us . . . if you get yourself to the line like that in a game you give yourself a chance to win.”
Said Shyatt: “We just didn’t come up with what we needed at the charity stripe.”
The Cowboys led 31-26 at halftime, but that was half the advantage they held 31/2 minutes earlier. A 10-0 run put them up 28-18 before the Buffs began to gather themselves. It didn’t help that CU went just over 71/2 minutes without a field goal, and that Dinwiddie was limited to 12 first-half minutes after drawing two fouls.
Wyoming’s 10-0 run featured three-pointers by Jerron Granberry and Adams and underscored a deficiency CU exhibited in its opener. UT-Martin had hit 41 percent from beyond the arc in a 91-65 loss, but the Buffs’ perimeter ‘D’ problems got Boyle’s attention.
The Cowboys ended the half shooting 50 percent from downtown (5-of-10), but hit only two of their 11 second-half attempts (18.2 percent). “We tried to get a little closer to them,” Boyle said. “I thought our three-point defense in the second half was much better.”
The Buffs needed a stellar start to the second 20 minutes and they got it, outscoring the Cowboys 8-3 and tying the score 34-34 on a pair of “XJ” free throws with 17:17 remaining. CU went inside to open the half, getting baskets from Scott and a pair of layups from Wes Gordon that preceded Johnson’s free throws.
Wyoming reclaimed a four-point lead (40-36), but CU used free throws by Dinwiddie and Booker to tie the score at 40-40 before a Booker layup put the Buffs ahead 42-40 with 12:15 to play. The Cowboys led only once the rest of the game – 47-46 on a three-pointer by Nathan Sobey with 7:55 left.
But even with CU parading to the foul line, Wyoming stayed close. The Cowboys closed to 57-56 on a jumper by Nance with 1:47 remaining. Dinwiddie answered by making four consecutive free throws, Xavier Talton hit one of two – the last gave the Buffs a four-point lead with 11.7 seconds showing – and Johnson made one of two with 3.6 seconds left to end the scoring.
Boyle said Dinwiddie “can affect the game the game in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t have to be scoring; it doesn’t have to be shooting. It can be getting to the free throw line, which he obviously does a great job of. It can be defensively and I think he’s our best perimeter defender right now.”
If the Buffs did as Boyle suggested and won ugly, Scott took consolation in this: “You can see that we make mistakes and sometimes lose concentration, but one of the blessings is that we have so much we can improve upon. We play teams that are well-coached and have returning players . . . we have to feel pretty excited by the fact we were able to beat a team like that. It just shows that we have promise for the games coming up.”
The next one is one of the earliest in recent memory: The Buffs are back at the CEC on Saturday at 10 a.m. against Jackson State.