BOULDER – The Colorado Buffaloes’ perimeter defense has them living on the edge. They survived another three-point barrage Thursday night – this one by UC Santa Barbara – and won 76-68 for their fifth consecutive victory at the Coors Events Center.
But, according to coach Tad Boyle, the Buffs’ three-point defense is “officially a deficiency of our team. Maybe I’ve been in denial . . . if it happens six games in a row, then maybe it’s a trend.”
Minus leading scorer (24 ppg) and rebounder (13 rpg) Alan Williams – a 6-7, 240-pound inside force – the Gauchos compensated on the perimeter by making 11 of 28 three-point attempts. Seven of the 11 treys left the torrid right hand of reserve guard Taran Brown, who scored a career-high 23 points. He missed only three of his long attempts.
Guard Askia Booker said the Buffs’ scouting report on the Gauchos identified Brown “as a shooter . . . but we didn’t know he shot like that.”
And that didn’t sit well with Boyle, who said it’s up to his players to trust what they’re told on paper and shown on tape. “That’s not respecting your opponent,” Boyle said. “When you have ‘shooter’ on the report that means he’s a shooter. I don’t care if he’s starting or coming off the bench.”
And don’t offer up to Boyle that his players are still adjusting to this season’s new closer called hand-checking rules for their failure to defend the three: “The new rules can’t be a reason anymore,” he said. “If you’ve got a job to do, start doing it.”
But Boyle also noted that UCSB came prepared to play – even without Williams, who was sidelined with back spasms. “There’s sometimes after games when you tip your hat to your opponent,” Boyle said. “I thought Santa Barbara was great tonight; their kids were ready to play . . . we took a pretty good shot from them tonight (and) I told our team we should be glad their best player didn’t play tonight.”
The Gauchos’ 11 treys were one less than the Buffs surrendered in a 91-65 rout of UT-Martin. That lopsided score might have led to Boyle’s “denial” of his team’s soft three-point defense. But through six games, CU’s perimeter defensive percentage has been no better than 33.3 percent (vs. Wyoming).
“We ain’t guarding the three-point line,” CU guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. “Give credit to them, but most of (their shots) were open.”
Any list of Buffs’ deficiencies didn’t include Dinwiddie, who said he didn’t sense a pregame readiness from his teammates and chose to assert himself more than in the previous games. He did, scoring a game-best 24 points that included 14-of-15 made free throws.
The Buffs hit 12 of 14 free throws in the final 3:56, with Dinwiddie sinking nine of 10 in that span.
Said Boyle: “We don’t win tonight without Spencer Dinwiddie . . . he was dialed in, aggressive.”
The Buffs led 32-30 at halftime and opened a nine-point (45-36) second-half lead before the Gauchos stormed back. Brown’s final three of the game gave UCSB (2-2) a 54-52 lead with 5:48 to play. But CU (5-1) answered with a 12-0 run and never trailed again.
In addition to Dinwiddie’s 24, CU also got 14 points from Booker, his junior backcourt mate. They were the only two Buffs in double figures; leading scorer Josh Scott managed only three points on a conventional three-point play that started the 12-0 run. Boyle said one of his team’s goals was to go inside more, but when it happened the Buffs didn’t finish – and he wasn’t singling out Scott.
The Buffs outrebounded the Gauchos 34-25, made 12 steals – the most this season against UCSB – and forced 17 turnovers – another UCSB high mark. But Boyle kept coming back to the perimeter defense and CU allowing the visitors to shoot 53.3 percent from the field in the second half.
A Friday morning practice originally scheduled to be a shoot-around has been reset as a full-blown run. “I don’t want our players to have a sense of entitlement,” he said. “I don’t want them to show up and play like this and think it’s OK . . . maybe I’m getting too soft as a coach.”
After a two-game absence, CU got sophomore forward Xavier Johnson back in its starting lineup. “XJ” had taken an elbow to the head in a practice prior to the Jackson State game (Nov. 16). “XJ” finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists, three turnovers and three steals.
The Buffs outscored the Gauchos 7-2 to open the second half and took a 39-32 lead, matching their largest advantage of the night to that point, with 15:47 remaining. CU wasn’t satisfied; layups by freshmen Jaron Hopkins and George King helped fashion a nine-point lead (45-36) at the 12:05 mark.
But it had been a while since the Gauchos hit a three-pointer. Paging Taran Brown . . . he ended that dry spell with a trey from the left wing, tying his career high with six threes. When Kyle Boswell followed with a three-pointer on the next possession, UCSB pulled within a point (45-44), then got to 52-51 on another Boswell triple with just under 7 minutes to play.
The Gauchos weren’t going away and they weren’t going to stop shooting the long ball. When Brown hit his seventh of the game at 5:48, UCSB went up 54-52. But urgency also might have overtaken the Buffs; their 12-0 run put them ahead 64-54 with 3:56 remaining.
Unless UCSB could go on another three-point binge, CU seemed headed for its fifth straight win. The Gauchos got one more three-ball by Michael Bryson – their 11th of the night – and closed to 71-67 with 33.9 seconds to play. Dinwiddie’s two free throws 4.5 seconds later and two more by Tre’Shaun Fletcher put the Buffs up 75-67 – and the Gauchos were done.
The Buffs conclude their six-game home stand with a Sunday afternoon game against Harvard (2:30 p.m., ESPNU). “The price of poker is going up and we’d better be ready to ante up,” Boyle said, adding that if Thursday night’s effort and preparation are replayed on Sunday his team faces trouble.
Boyle took this from the Buffs’ rigorous preseason session with the Navy SEALS: “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall back to your level of preparation.” Friday morning’s practice just might reflect that.