LARAMIE, Wyo. - The Colorado Buffaloes knew their first true road test of the season would be difficult, but they might have made it harder than it had to be.
Committing 17 turnovers while managing just 11 assists and allowing Wyoming's inside game - read: Leonard Washington - to dominate, the No. 19 Buffs were overrun by the Cowboys 76-69 on Saturday night in the boisterous Arena-Auditorium.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why we lost this game," said CU coach Tad Boyle, citing an assist-to-turnover ratio that continues to disappoint, 14 layups allowed (seven in each half) and his team permitting Wyoming to shoot 52 percent in the second half of a game that the Buffs led by two (28-26) at intermission.
Continued Boyle, who watched his team lose for the first time this season (6-1) and only the second time in its last 13 games: "I'm disappointed in our execution in the second half. We have to get better in a lot of different areas."
The Cowboys' 6-7 Washington scored a team-high 22 points - most of them inside as Wyoming outscored CU 30-24 in the paint. The unbeaten Cowboys (8-0) also turned the Buffs' 17 turnovers, which tied the season high, into 20 points.
Spencer Dinwiddie led the Buffs with 24 points and Andre Roberson added 16 and 12 rebounds - his 28th career double-double. CU's other pair of top scorers - guard Askia Booker and post Josh Scott - accounted for 11 points between them. Booker (16.8 ppg) was held to a season-low six points - a three-pointer in each half, while Scott (14.5 ppg) scored five before fouling out.
Two of Scott's teammates - Roberson and Sabatino Chen - also fouled out. The Buffs were whistled for 27 fouls to the Cowboys' 13, a disparity that Boyle believes worked too much on some of his players' psyches.
"It's going to happen," he said. "We've got to figure out a way to overcome that. They can get frustrated and bitch about it all they want - it doesn't change things. The way you do that is with mental toughness and not let it get in your head, get you out of your game."
Boyle also pointed to a hustle play made by Washington midway through the second half that he believed epitomized the night for the Buffs. It occurred when the Cowboys began pulling away with an 11-3 run. Washington went to floor for a loose ball, corralled it and called time out. Meanwhile, five CU players bent at their waists and poked at the ball.
"He out-scrapped us and got it," Boyle said. "He 'beasted' us last year (16 points in a 64-54 Wyoming win). What you saw with Leonard Washington was a senior who was playing his last time against a team like Colorado that was in the Top 25. He wanted this game . . . he took four or five charges himself. It was in the scouting report."
The Buffs, said Boyle, failed to play hard, smart or together: "We've got guys who have to change their identities from offensive players to defensive players, defensive players to rebounders, screeners, passers - and then let the offense come to you . . . we've got a lot of guys on this team who can put the ball in the basket. Not just Josh, Ski, Spencer, Andre - guys coming off the bench can (score). But our mindset right now is not a collective one, not what it needs to be."
Booker, who was 2-of-13 from the field (one trey in each half), "does not handle adversity well," Boyle said. "He has to get better when his jump shot's not going in and when the officiating isn't bailing him out. That's the bottom line. He knows it, I know it, the assistant coaches know it, his teammates know it. Until he does, he's going to be frustrated on nights like this because people are going to start face-guarding him, bumping him, being physical . . . he's got to figure it out."
The Buffs, as a whole, have until Wednesday night to figure out how to solve the deficiencies Boyle has laid out for them. Archrival Colorado State (6-0) visits the Coors Events Center in the second game of men's/women's doubleheader, and if CU doesn't improve over the next three days, CSU "will obliterate us," Boyle said. "They've got a toughness about them. You talk about rebounding and defending, look at Colorado State. They rebound and defend. They're exactly what we need to be, and that's why they're undefeated right now. We've might have lost a little bit of our hunger now, I don't know. We'll find out Wednesday night."
The 6-10 Scott wouldn't concede that the Buffs have encountered complacency. "We're as hungry as ever," he said. "I know all of us are really competitive, we all want to be the best we can be."
If they weren't at their best in Saturday night's first half, they were close enough to stay competitive. With Wyoming's largest crowd (8,240) in eight seasons watching, the first half might have unfolded just as CU envisioned. The Cowboys aren't interested in getting up and down the court, and they made sure the visitors couldn't. Neither team had a fast-break basket in the opening 20 minutes.
CU did manage a two-point lead in a first half that featured seven ties and eight lead changes, but the Buffs' 28 points was their lowest first-half output of the season. It was an omen, for CU finished shooting 41.4 percent from the field (24-of-58) for their lowest percentage of the season.
The Buffs encountered early foul problems, with Roberson, Xavier Johnson and Scott seeing their minutes limited after picking up two fouls each. Roberson played nine minutes but still had seven first-half points, tying Dinwiddie for the team lead. Scott and Johnson played 10 minutes each.
The Buffs stayed close, even leading on a couple of occasions, in the first 5 minutes of the second half. It didn't help CU when Scott was whistled for his third foul at the 12:45 mark and went to the bench for 4 minutes. Wyoming went up by six (45-39) on an inside basket and free throw by Washington and two free throws by Luke Martinez.
A Dinwiddie trey cut the deficit in half (45-42), but the Cowboys reeled off an 11-3 run and suddenly were up 51-42 with 9:16 remaining. And in this game, at Wyoming's pace, a nine-point lead looked pretty cushy. Boyle called a timeout to settle the Buffs.
CU pulled to within five (55-50), but a Washington desperation three-pointer with the shot clock at one second restored Wyoming's eight-point lead (58-50) at the 5:12 mark.
If the Buffs were going to remain unbeaten, it would be up to their defense. But allowing a full-court pass to Martinez on an out-of-bounds play wasn't the way to finish strong. His layup pushed the Cowboys back up by nine (61-52) with just under 4 minutes remaining - and it was all Wyoming thereafter.
Said Dinwiddie: "We didn't play defense, plain and simple. They buckled down and made plays and we didn't make plays."
Dinwiddie claimed the loud Cowboys crowd didn't disrupt the Buffs: "I don't think so . . . we missed some shots, but I don't think the crowd had much to do with it. The crowd doesn't change the way the opposing team plays defense."
Now comes CSU, which edged CU 65-64 last season in Fort Collins. Dinwiddie said Saturday night's first loss of this season doesn't make the Rams' visit to Boulder any more significant: "It's a big game either way. They're probably going to be Top 25 now, we might or might not still. It's our place, they beat us last year and rushed the court.
"They're our biggest rival. You really can't set the stage any higher than it already was . . . it's still going to be crazy. We want to prove to ourselves more than anything (and) get back to the way we should be playing."