BOULDER – Colorado’s Wednesday night win over Washington State may have helped to ease some of the tension left behind by the lackluster performances that epitomized the team’s late January swoon. But, in the minds of coaches and players alike, it did little to mask some of the recurring inefficiencies that have plagued the Buffs all season.
After an uneven first half, the Buffs (17-6, 6-4) took full control of the game by doing all the little things that often comes to determine the outcome of close games. Then with less than seven minutes to play and enjoying their biggest lead of the game, the Buffs began to revert back to all that has kept them from greatness in the last month.
The final minutes of the 68-63 win underlined the trials and tribulations of a team that is struggling to adapt without its marquee point guard – Spencer Dinwiddie. After nearly unraveling completely, the Buffs mustered just enough to hold on.
Yet with the final stretch of the season on the horizon, coach Tad Boyle and his team know that they must find a level of consistency if they are to succeed when it matters most.
“We didn’t do a very good job of finishing,” said Boyle. “We like to be in that position because that means you’ve got a big lead, but you have to make free throws, you have to clamp down on defense, and we didn’t do either one very well down the stretch. I don’t know what to say other than we have got to get better.”
CU stretched its lead to as much as 19 by out hustling, outmanning and outmaneuvering overmatched WSU. Over the first 13 minutes of the second half, the Buffs had doubled the Cougars in rebounds (16-8), made more than 80 percent of their free throw attempts (5-6), and allowed just 15 total points. Then, over the final seven minutes, CU allowed 28 points, was outrebounded 7-3 and connected on just 66 percent of its attempts from the line (10-15).
Everything that continues to hinder Boyle’s bunch manifested itself in those final few minutes and instead of reveling in a hard-fought victory, Boyle used his post-game presser as a platform to address those issues.
“I thought in the second half we blew it open to like 17 or 19, but we didn’t finish like we want to or need to,” he said. “There were some good things and obviously there’s still a lot of room for improvement, we just have to take it and move on.”
In a night littered with glitches, the biggest one of all may have been a continuing inability to defend from beyond the arc. All year, CU opponents who have found little room underneath against an athletic front line, have thrived from the 3-point line, and the Cougars were no exception. The Buffs have allowed their opponents to shoot a combined 37.2 percent from long range – worst in the Pac-12. In following that same blueprint, Washington State used a barrage of long-range shots to battle back late, eventually cutting that 19-point lead to as little as three.
The biggest benefactor of the Buffs’ defensive insufficiencies from beyond the arc was sharp-shooting Cougar DeVonte Lacy. He hit a career-high eight three-pointers in the game, including three over the final three minutes to keep his team in it. Washington State made 13 3-pointers against a Buffs’ defense that has now allowed 33 treys in the last three games. And for a team that is always looking for ways to improve, statistics suggest that addressing that concern would go a long way toward long term success.
“I mean we tried (to stop them) but then again Lacy got open way too many times,” said junior guard Askia Booker. “I think that the individuals that are guarding Lacy are going to have to come in and watch film and learn how to guard those screens because we have a great shooter coming in Sunday in (Washington star C.J.) Wilcox and he will make those shots just as well as Lacy has.”
Wilcox is one the nation’s most accurate long-distance shooters and one of its most prolific scoring threats, a realization the Buffs have experienced firsthand. Wilcox scored 31 points and connected on seven three-pointers in his team’s 71-54 romp over CU in Seattle last month. If the Buffs are to win the rematch, the first step will come in attempting to slow down Wilcox and challenging his shots that more often than not went unchallenged in their previous meeting.
“We can’t (play like we did) Sunday because that team (Washington) is a lot better than Washington State,” Booker said. “They will come in here and finish us off if that’s the case.
Sunday night’s tipoff is at 6 p.m. (ESPNU).