Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Arizona Basketball Preview #2 - The Final Homestand

I've been a writing fool the last few days, posting my Askia Booker retrospective, and participating in a Q&A with Pachoops.com's Adam Butler.  The extra word-smithing, as fun as it was, has left me precious little time to complete the preview of tonight's tilt with Arizona.  So, without further adieu, onto business...

Tip-off from snow-covered Boulder is set for 7pm this evening.  Once again, ESPN needs to figure out this whole 'scheduling too early' thing, as they've tabbed this one for the mothership.  At least out of region CU fans have no excuse to miss the broadcast, as ESPN's market penetration is about the same as breathable air.  The radio call will be on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview of the first game can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The 2015 Senior Class - Askia Booker

It's once again that time of year.  The time to reflect on what has been, and honor the graduating seniors from the Colorado basketball program. With all do respect to messrs Nelson and Bates, though, I feel the need to break up the pleasantries this year.  For the third year in a row, only one scholarship senior will have his name called out on the day of the final home game, and it's a big one.  This week is dedicated to that man, Askia Booker, and his contributions to the program.  So is this column.

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Askia Booker - Los Angeles, CA -

Diminutive, spunky, lightning-in-a-bottle, Ski came to CU as the undercard of one of the more underrated recruiting classes in program history. But it almost wasn't.  Booker was a somewhat lightly regarded shooter coming out of Price High School in LA.  While Coach Boyle and staff had him on their radar, a risky decision after his junior year of high school to switch to AAU powerhouse Compton Magic hurt his visibility. "They just stopped calling," Booker said. "It was pretty obvious. They fell off. Everybody fell off."  For a time, it looked as if the man to become known simply as 'Ski' would be playing his college ball for the Cal State Northridges of the world.

Askia Booker, however, is made of sterner stuff than most.  Showing that American-sized dose of swagger and intensity that he would become known for in Boulder, Ski dedicated himself in the gym, working diligently to earn the high-major scholarship he knew he deserved.  Suddenly, he was the best player on a high school team full of nationally regarded talent.  Eventually, that CU offer came, and ESPN named him the incoming sleeper ($) in the Pac-12 his freshman year. Paired with fellow freshman Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs suddenly had a backcourt foundation to build upon.

Almost from the moment he stepped on campus, you could tell Askia was special.  While some only see the brazen mid-range jumpers, I see the heart and effort behind them.  Booker has always played with a massive chip on his shoulder - a sense that he has to continually prove himself to the doubters - which took the form of hundreds of thousands of shots, year after year in the practice gym. No Buff has ever worked harder.  It was in those moments, behind closed doors, working his ass off, that the 'Scrat' was forged, and a legend was born. 

The basics of his game are simple to identify.  It's all based on speed and aggression. What sets him apart, however, is that Booker has a will, a hunger to win that supersedes all caution. Everything Ski does on the court is meant to take advantage of guys on their heels, players that don't share his commitment to making the most out of every moment.  How else do you explain the shot above of the 6-1 Booker blocking the half-hearted dunk attempt of a seven-foot center from USC? The chip that drives him to put in the work when the cameras are off drives him to take risks when they are on.  But that's the thing.  Just as in life, fortune favors the bold.  In the world of college basketball, where drowsy halfcourt sets and momentum killing timeouts rule, Ski is the swizzle stick stirring up a ruckus.

If safeties-free, all-balls performances like 17 points as a freshman in the NCAA Tournament, or a sizzling domination of a non-conference run in Charleston as a sophomore didn’t let you in on the secret, let me clue you in: Askia Booker was born to get buckets. Important buckets. Season-defining buckets. Winning buckets.  He has a sense for the moment, rising to the occasion with fearlessness.  It is inspiring, and, ultimately, winning basketball.

Seriously, look back over the last four years at everything that made the #RollTad era what it was.  You will see Ski, balls-to-the-walls as always, smirking in the middle. He was the fuel behind the 3-0 start to conference play in 2012, the Tournament win over UNLV that same year, the Charleston Classic title in 2013, the near comeback against Illinois in that year's Dance, the statement win over Kansas last winter, the recovery process after Dinwiddie's injury, and every moment of joy you could mention from this season. Definitive moments from an era of excellence.

The product on the court wasn't always the prettiest; #SKIBALL, after all, was never meant for the feint of heart. But, through all those risks, one fact remains: Booker is a winner. He finishes his career as a conference champion, a non-conference tournament MVP, a three-time participant in the NCAA Tournament, and a winner of 79 games (out of 128 played - 62%). With at least five probable starts remaining, he's also in the top-10 for a number of categories on the all-time CU rolls.  8th in scoring with 1,634 points.  5th in made three pointers.  8th in steals.  4th in minutes and games played.  The list of players who can even approach what he accomplished in Boulder is incredibly short.

To underscore what he means to the success or failure of the program, just consider this:
  • In games where Ski shot at least 40% from the floor, the Buffs won over 78% of the time.  
  • In games where he was under?  Colorado was a sub .500 club, only winning 34 of 72.  
As Ski went, so did CU.

It's weird to think of him without running mate Spencer Dinwiddie. The pair teamed so well together, a yin and a yang.  Dinwiddie, the mercurial point, Booker, the flashy two guard.  The mesh of their talents burned brightest the last time they shared the court at the Coors Events Center, when they ripped off 50 combined points against Oregon to slingshot the Buffs into the top-15.  It was at that moment that CU was at their best, focused around the daring duo from LA.

Related, there's a part of me that fears that Ski's graduation is the final chapter of a now complete book.  He's the last of the 2012 Pac-12 champions, the last of a generation of talent that took CU basketball to heretofore unheard of heights.  If that is the case, if the wave has indeed crested and spent its energy on the rocks, then how can you not give even more credence to Ski's exploits in Black and Gold?  As talented individually as his current teammates are, they can't measure up to the intangibles that Ski brought to the table each and every day - against comparable talent, that's the difference between winning and losing.

It kills me that this year hasn't been more successful.  It kills me that there are still fans that doubt how or why Ski is as important to the history of this program as he is.  In both respects, Booker deserved better.  But this is not a perfect business - Ski's own success shows that.

When preparing to profile Ski's career in Boulder, I thought back to another controversial guard from recent times, Nate Tomlinson. Just as some witnesses rejected Nate's handling of the rock during his stay at Colorado, many reflexively disdain Booker.  They see the wild shots, the awkward moments, and miss the larger picture. Tomlinson and Booker were both dyed-in-the-wool winners. If, after all you've seen over the last four years, you're still a Ski-denier, then I can't help you.  You've missed the boat on one of the most entertaining and successful players to ever grace the hardwood of the CEC.

Thank you, Askia! You're John McClane in Black and Gold; the sneering action hero fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds. There will never be another like you.

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Best remembered for - 

Can there be another answer?  Of course, it's the game winner against Kansas

Watch the gif. Count the fucks given by Booker. There are none to be found. After release, he just stands there, as if waiting for the oncoming train of noise. Waiting for us, the fans, to realize what he has just pulled off. He was born to hit that shot. He was born to euro-step into that shot. 

This was Ski in his element.  That absurd, delirious element he thrived in.   When you needed someone to step up and grab the bull by the horns, Askia Booker was your man.  That shot will lead the run of program highlights for years to come.


Best aspect of his game - 

Speed.  Pure, unadulterated speed. In open transition, no one can keep pace. His dribble-drive comes off like a rocket launch.  Ski can seemingly go from top of the key to rim in two steps; off of a half-pivot, no less.  Fucking lightning.  There's a reason, after all, that defenses pack the lane against CU.  Not only are there no other shooters to draw their eye, but they know that no one will be able to stay with Ski if he gets that first step off.



Best game as a Buff - 

There's a lot of contenders here.  The Oregon game from his freshman year, the declarative statement of his efforts against UNLV in Albuquerque, the Charleston Classic finale against Murray State, the Kansas game (more of a moment, though), any number of games last winter as the team recovered from the Dinwiddie injury, the pure 30 he dropped in Tucson last month.  In the end, however, thinking on what #SKIBALL really means, there was only one choice: Ski's 43 in Los Angeles against USC.

With Booker, the high points are heart, effort, and a will to win.  He showed all three back on January 29th, refusing to quit in his home town.  It took three overtimes, and he had to overcome a sore hip, but he poured on 43 massive points to drag CU, kicking and screaming, into a 98-94 win over the Trojans. It wasn't as perfect or as effortless as the game in Tucson a few weeks earlier, but that's what made it so Ski like.  It was slightly-flawed brilliance. 13-23 from the floor, 13-15 from the line, he was an all encompassing force.  Never was he better.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Wherein I slowly go mad...

Yeesh, this basketball season is getting rough.  Another painful performance Saturday evening drove me screaming from the game room before the first half was done. My approximate reaction to those trying to console me Saturday night:

It's going to be a long three weeks.  Or short, depending on how much booze is left in that flask.

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Today in the bag, I'm talking yet another road loss for the men's basketball team, a trip around the Pac-12, and the women's team wrapping up the home schedule in style.

Click below for the bag...


Saturday, February 21, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Oregon State Basketball Preview: Uncomfortable in Corvallis

Hoping to capitalize on a strong home effort against Stanford, Colorado headed to Eugene on Wednesday to take on the surprising Oregon Ducks.  It started off well enough, as the Buffs jumped out of the gate to an 11-4 lead, but a 24-4 UO run mid-way through the first half canceled that out in a heartbeat.  The culprit was sloppy play on both sides of the court, but the result was that CU headed into the first half down 17; their largest deficit at the break of the season.  In the second half, play was better.  They were able to chip away at the Ducks, at one point getting the margin down to five points with four minutes to play. Unfortunately, that first half performance proved too much to overcome, as the Buffs settled for a 73-60 loss.  Back under .500, *sigh*
Wide-eyed, the Buffs none-the-less struggled in Eugene.
What else can you say, the periodic scoring droughts are killing this team.  Long a feature of the #RollTad era, we've seen peak drought this winter, with the game in Oregon a prime example.  After taking that 11-4 lead at the 16:24 mark, notably on a Wes Gordon put-back, CU went the next seven and a half minutes without a field goal, missing layups and open looks aplenty before Gordon cracked the glass ceiling with a layup at 9:03.  The spell wasn't broken with that bucket, however, as the team would go another four minutes before yet another layup from Wes.  Still not finished, it was a further two minutes before the rest of the team decided to get into the action, when Xavier Johnson burst through with a layup at 2:40 on the clock. In total, CU players not named Wesley Gordon went 13 and a half minutes only scoring two damn points (free throws from Ski Booker).

Two thoughts: 1) Wes needs to be more aggressive offensively, 2) this magical vanishing offense has become a tired joke.  In total, CU posted an eFG of 24-fucking-percent in the first half, capped off with a 3-8 run from the line.  This coincided with them allowing the Ducks to shoot 59% from the field, as the focused effort on either end completely collapsed.  While the team played better over the final 20, there's just no coming back from that. As Coach Boyle said in the post-game:
“We’re having trouble putting the ball in the basket. When you do that, it’s tough, it just makes it really hard to win games... It’s hard to win even when you play well defensively because our margin for error is so small... We just couldn’t finish possessions by rebounding it and obviously we can’t put the ball in the basket. It’s unbelievable."
Indeed.
Repeated empty possessions allowed Joe Young to put this one out of reach.  From: Rivals.
Silver and Gold linings:
  • Wes Gordon, and his 6-7 shooting from the field.  The sophomore has been really efficient from the floor this season (116 Ortg), but his effort on offense comes and goes (possibly with the tide?).  In this game, he was on.
  • Josh Scott collected a career-high 17 rebounds to fuel the 19th double-double of his tenure in Boulder. Combined with Gordon, the front court pair collected 13 of CU's 20 offensive rebounds.
  • Ski cracked 20 points, again.  He needed 17 shots to get there, but was clutch from the line, going 10-12.  0-5 from three, however, and only handed out two assists.  I wonder how recovered he is from those hip pointers, as his jump shot isn't there right now.
  • CU played pretty good defense in the second half, holding the Ducks to 24% from the floor. Combined with a +8 rebound margin over the game, and you can see how Colorado was able to crawl back into this one.
Duck hunting difficulties behind them, the Buffs will look to end the road trip on a high point this evening as they shoot up I-5 to Corvallis. I'm almost frightened to see what this one will look like, as the Oregon State Beavers play some of the best zone defense in America.  The word of the day will be patience, as the painfully-slow Beavs look to lull opponents into slumber.  Conveniently, tip-off from Gill Coliseum is set for 9pm.  Won't need the melatonin tonight...

Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Oregon Basketball Preview: Against Dana and his Amazing Revolving Door Roster

Not a lot of time for idle talk today, as I biffed the rough draft.  Straight to the action:

The Buffs are headed to Eugene for a tilt with a a well-funded rival. Tip-off from Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene isn't until 9pm this evening, though.  Put on a coffee, 'cause this one is going late.  ESPNU has the sights and sounds, with 850 KOA the descriptions and Mark Johnson.

Click below for the preview...


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: What's this? A win!? Now I'm really confused.

I don't want to let this slip through the cracks.  The CU men's basketball program did a pretty cool thing last week when they 'signed' six-year-old Cason Turkaly to the 2015 recruiting class (I know Tad likes to go after early commits, but damn).  Of course, this was an event coordinated with Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization working to make once-in-a-lifetime dreams come true for chronically ill children.  They even had Cason, who suffers from Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome, sign a NLI, which may have been the cutest damn thing I've ever seen.  Good on the Buffs for making this happen, and helping to bring a smile to little Cason's life.
Cason Turkaly, the newest commit to the #RollTad army.  Hear he's got a mean handle. From: CUBuffs.com
Side note: inspired by their new signee, CU went on to beat Stanford over the weekend, ending a three-game losing streak. Karma, man.

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Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over Stanford, the world of Pac-12 basketball, and Spring Training.

Click below for the bag...


Sunday, February 15, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Stanford Basketball Preview - We Can't Have Nice Things

The Buffs seemed to have a lot going for them Thursday night against Cal.  For the first time in 2015, every eligible scholarship athlete was available, they were playing a 'beatable' team at home, and even 'The Mayor' Spencer Dinwiddie was in attendance.  Even still, Colorado struggled on both ends of the court, continuing to play a tentative brand of offense, while leaking like a sieve defensively. They would have a chance to steal the win late, but CU couldn't make the necessary plays, and lost yet another home game.  This time by a 68-61 final.
Bruh, I just need a TO.  From: the BDC
I hate to repeat myself, but the same damn issues keep popping up.  Perimeter defense was typically porous, with Golden Bear shooting specialist Jordan Mathews allowed numerous undefended looks at the basket. He would finish with 19 points, buoyed by 4-of-6 shooting from three (overall, the Buffs allowed Cal to go 10-22 from beyond the arc).  The defensive woes didn't just stop there, however. With the Buffs clinging to life down the stretch, the Bears scored or got to the line on seven of eight possessions from the fourth minute onward. That's how you lose a close ballgame.

This was particularly painful because the Buffs were still playing tentative and inefficient basketball on offense.  CU was held under 37% from the field, to only 3-of-10 from beyond the arc, and continued to pass up open looks to hit a cutter or shoot. It continues to amaze me that 19 year olds, many of them with the attention span of a gnat, are reluctant to fire one off.  I would think that you'd have to plead with them not to pull the trigger, but the reality is the opposite.  The result is yet another game scoring under one point per possession.  For the record, the Buffs are 9-2 this season when they're over that Mendoza line, 2-10 when they aren't.  The proof is in the pudding; sometimes, you just need to score some fucking points.
Josh fought through lingering back pain for a nice night, but he was mostly alone.  From: the BDC
And yet, knowing all of that, Colorado still had a chance to win the game in the final minutes.  A clutch three pointer from Askia Booker with 1:43 to play made it a two-point ballgame.  The Buffs wouldn't score again, however, as a Josh Scott baseline jumper on the next possession rimmed, deflating sails.  Booker and Scott, who combined to score 28 of CU's 61 points, just couldn't do enough to engineer the comeback. A few turnovers later, one each from Ski and Xavier Johnson (who's still not 100%), and the fate was sealed.

CU has now lost seven of their last nine to slide into 10th place in the Pac-12. 10th?  Really, 10th?  Has it gotten that bad? Yep, 10th. *sigh*  Another opportunity to right the ship presents itself this afternoon, as the Buffs will take on Stanford at home.  Tip-off from the CEC is set for 2pm today; television coverage will be on Fox Sports 1, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...