Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2013-14 Washington Basketball Preview #2

Wednesday night up at the CEC, much was stacked against the Colorado Buffaloes.  Playing against a bottom-feeding Washington State squad that had pushed them to overtime in their previous meeting, they took the court in front of a mostly-empty arena almost entirely devoid of students due to some historically frigid temperatures.  As a result, the atmosphere in the arena was mostly listless, and the normally potent home-court advantage was largely negated. What's more, a cynical defensive gameplan from the Cougars stifled Josh Scott, driving the essential big man away from the rim, and reducing him to a glorified decoy. Add in Washington State star DaVonte Lacy having a prodigious night, and the Buffs were without both their best player and their trump card against a red-hot shooter on a team already proven to be capable of making things uncomfortable.
The cold kept plenty of seats empty for tip-off.  From: the BDC
And yet, CU won, easily.  The 68-63 final may not look like much, but Colorado was up by as many as 19 with under seven minutes to go, and, in reality, cruised home.  It was a satisfying result that brought them into a four-way tie for third place in the Pac-12, only a half game back of UCLA for second.  Pretty good value for a game against WSU.

By all rights, the star of the game was Lacy, who got hot early, and stayed in a scorer's mentality for the full 40.  Going 8-13 from beyond the arc en route to 34 total points, he took advantage of CU's notoriously suspect perimeter defense.  That's a little simplistic and unfair to the Buffs, however, who were far better guarding the outside than they were in Spokane.  Lacy was legitimately on fire, and hit some ridiculous shots, but the ball don't lie, and Colorado got lit up once again.
Lacy was on fire.  From: the BDC
For the Buffs, much had to be done with Josh Scott having a quiet evening.  The Colorado Springs native was held to one point and one rebound in 32 minutes of play.  It was eerily similar to the night Spencer Dinwiddie had against the Cougars last month.  Maybe it's time to admit that WSU does a good job isolating the opposing team's best player, and making life difficult on them.  Scott was given no time on the ball, no open looks from 15-18 feet, and was double-teamed at every turn.  Jelly had been the most consistent player in the entire conference, so I doubt he'll be posting 1/1 nights for too long.

In his stead, CU enjoyed superlative performances from Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker.  The pair combined for 46 points, 30 of which were scored in the second half.  Booker was especially potent, going for 26 on 9-12 shooting to go with 5 assists, scoring 21 of his points after the break.  He was as aggressive as I've seen in getting to the rim, and really changed the complexion of the game with his pace.
Xavier Johnson, along with Askia Booker, paced the winning effort.  From: the BDC
As satisfying as the win was, I'm not sure it really changes anything.  For that matter, all three of Colorado's recent wins have been conventional and expected.  Beating USC, Utah, and WSU at home is not exactly a surprise, and won't be enough to get the Buffs into the Tournament.  They need to come up with some wins against stiffer competition.  While not really a shocker, beating Washington tomorrow would be a strong step in that direction.  The Huskies lit up CU in Seattle, albeit due to an understandable reason, and a little revenge would go a long way to keeping the Buffs afloat into the brutal close of their regular season schedule.


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6pm tomorrow evening.  Coverage will be on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

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

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Last month in Seattle, CU started out the game with the Huskies in a good spot.  After a sluggish performance a few nights earlier against Washington St, the Buffs looked re-invigorated, and re-invested against Washington. Behind a strong start from star guard Spencer Dinwiddie, CU had built a seven point lead with four minutes to play in the first half, and looked to be in control.

Then... the world decided to stop turning.  Dinwiddie, the heart and soul of the program, slipped and fell while on the break, and immediately started clutching at his knee in agony.  He would later be diagnosed with a season-ending torn ACL.  As if that wasn't bad enough, only seconds later, freshman forward Tre'Shaun Fletcher had a similar slip, and suffered a tear in his left MCL and meniscus, costing him over a month of action.  It was enough to take your breath away.
Dinwiddie's injury opened the door for a massive UW comeback.
After that, there was almost no point in playing the second half.  The effect was immediate and devastating. CU quickly lost their lead, and never came close to threatening after halftime.  I'd tell you that CU committed 20 turnovers, and shot a paltry 1-12 from beyond the arc, but it didn't really matter.  It's entirely unfair to hold the team accountable for the collapse.  The 71-54 final was simply window dressing on one of the worst days in the history of the program.  That Washington won, or even the fashion in which they did it, is meaningless.

Since then... - 

The Huskies have proven incapable of capitalizing on their 3-1 start to conference play.  The culprit has been a complete inability to win a game away from home.  Since the win over CU that some in HuskyNation were hoping would propel them to a strong run in conference play, they've gone 2-4, sandwiching a pair of blowout losses in the Bay Area and losses to Washington St (ouch) and Utah around a sweep of the Oregons.  Not good.
The Huskies have been getting hammered outside of Seattle.
The issue continues to be a lack of interior size.  There is no deterrent for inside action at the rim, and opponents are taking advantage.  Over 60% of all opponent scoring has been done inside the arc in conference play, and the Huskies continue to allow the nation's highest field goal percentage inside the paint (72.5%).  With that in mind, it's really no wonder that Wes Gordon enjoyed his best game of the season against these guys last month (11/13/4).  The Buffs have to take advantage of this deficiency tomorrow, getting both Gordon and Josh Scott going early and often with numerous paint touches. The Huskies simply don't have the horses to stop them.

Offensively, Washington continues to be inconsistent because they are forced into being a jump-shooting team.  Their four-out-one-in look rarely sees them getting to the free throw line (last in conference play for FTA/FGA ratio, getting less than 18% of their scoring from the line), and they continue to be in the national top-30 for percentage of shots coming as two-point jumpers. It's not a formula for consistent winning, and it's no great surprise that they struggle going on the road, as a result.

Why things could be different - 

Last month's game in Seattle was a throw-away for Colorado.  After the pair of injuries in the first half, they were never going to put together a competitive performance.  The simple fact that CU has had a month to come to terms with basketball without Dinwiddie and Fletcher means that this should be a completely different game.

What's more, Washington has struggled away from home.  They are 2-8 in all road/neutral contests, and are riding a five-game losing streak as visitors.  Assuming BuffNation actually shows up tomorrow night, I like CU's chances of earning a spot of revenge.
Wilcox is the type of player that usually has a field day against the Buffs.
One thing that won't change is that CJ Wilcox will continue to be a danger.  The senior shooting guard is still one of the best pure shooters in the West, and has been hitting over 52% of his three-point attempts over the last four games.  Considering that run of play, and his 31 point performance against Colorado last month, I have no doubt that the Buffs will struggle to contain him, once again.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 10-3.  Against the spread: 7-6.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +2.62 pts/gm)


I continue to feel comfortable about Colorado at the CEC.  Simply because of improved weather and roads, the crowd should be much better tomorrow night than it was Wednesday, and a Sunday night affair means fans can enjoy a day of skiing, and still make it back to Boulder in time for tip.  Assuming Wilcox doesn't go completely HAM, the Buffs should prevail.  Verdict on the cover to come, but I'm betting on a two-possession win.

CU 74 - UW 69


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