|Andrews didn't flinch with the game on the line.|
Overall, this was an ugly, slow, defensive show. Both teams struggled offensively, with layups and easy opportunities missed left and right. CU hit their numbers on 'D,' holding the 'Dawgs to 36% from the floor (25% from three) while out-rebounding them by five, but couldn't solve the Washington zone. There were plenty of terrified looks on the faces of Colorado players when the ball came their way, and there was a lot of pointless passing (as opposed to effective passing) going on. It makes sense, with two of their best offensive players - Josh Scott and Johnson - on the bench, but the molasses drip of scoring made for uncomfortable viewing.
|Scrappy, defensive play was the name of the game. From: the BDC|
The attention now turns to tonight's battle with Washington State. Both mired at .500 overall, the two teams are seemingly headed in different directions after the opening weeks of conference play. As opposed to Thursday's offensive struggle, those in attendance should at least see some fireworks, as the Cougars bring with them a willing offensive mindset and a porous defense. I guarantee that more than 102 points will be scored in this one.
Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6pm. Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
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When last we met -
Last season, playing against a bottom-feeding Washington State squad that had pushed them to overtime in their previous meeting, Colorado 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|
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 had been in the previous meeting at 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|
|Xavier Johnson, along with Askia Booker, paced the winning effort. From: the BDC|
The Cougars in 2014-15 -
These are not the Cougars you may have expected coming into this season. Sure, KenPom has them in the high 100s, and their .500 record is far from sexy (*cough*), but this is a dangerous team. No longer a pushover, they will work opponents for 40 minutes each and every night, and anyone traveling to Pullman better be ready for a fight.
The turnaround is mostly based on offense, where a new head coach has turned a strong core of attack dogs loose. They were 336th in adjusted tempo last season, one of the slowest teams in all of college basketball. But a new, score the damn ball mentality has WSU in the top-40 nationally in pace, completing their own possessions in less than 17 seconds. They thrive on the break (about 27% of all shots in transition), and will make you pay for not getting back on defense. All told, they're pumping in over 71 points per game; night and day from last season when they mandered to about 62 per contest. Schematic change, certainly, but they are dramatically more entertaining to watch this winter.
|With an attacking mindset boosting play, smiles are returning to Pullman.|
Of course, that just means that the devil on my shoulder says the trick against these guys is to slow the pace down. Their losses in conference play have been at or around 63 possessions per contest, while their wins have averaged 75 possessions per. Give me #TadBall, and give me a win. A repeat of Thursday's ugly, lethargic molasses drip would serve nicely... at least from a victory perspective.
|You have to find a way to slow these guys down.|
Points off for defense aside, I like this club. Good defensive teams can slow them down (see: back-to-back losses to Oregon State and Utah), but lesser groups will fall into the trap of running and gunning with them. Overall, they try to make the game fun to watch, and should be able to play a nasty late-night spoiler come Vegas-time. When they end up in the 8/9 game, they alone will make it 'leave-the-poker-table,' appointment-level viewing. Can't wait.
The reversal of fortune with the ball in their hands shouldn't be all that surprising considering the man holding the reins in Pullman. Ernie Kent, formerly of Oregon and the Pac-12 Network, has returned to the sidelines to spark the revival at Washington State. The Rockford, IL native is a well-known offensive guru, having lead his Ducks to speedy offensive outputs year after year in the early 2000s. This is exactly what he was hired to do: bring excitement (and points) to the Palouse. So far, so good.
|Kent is back in the Pac-12, and already has the Cougars showing signs of life.|
Whatever he's doing is working. No, they're not going to make the Dance this season, and they will still probably settle into a bottom-half finish, but, not even half-way in the conference slate, WSU has already matched last year's league win total. Heads are starting to turn, and his players are starting to believe. At 60 years old, this is probably Kent's last run at leading a program, but he seems intent on making the most of it.
Star Players -
Of course, the cupboard wasn't completely bare of talent when Kent arrived. Senior wing DaVonte Lacy remains, and he's a great one. As we saw last season in Boulder, the 6-4 Tacoma product can go off at a moment's notice, and can push his team over the top if given the chance. Lacy has a complete offensive game, averaging 17 points per this season. He can attack the rim, kill it with his jumper, and even slip a sweet pass every now and then. He'll be a tough assignment for Jaron Hopkins this evening.
|Lacy is a pure scorer.|
|Hawkinson has come out of nowhere to become an all-conference level player.|
Providing the spark to release both Hawkinson and Lacy are the starting point guard duo of sophomore Ike Iroegbu and freshman Ny Redding. They combine for seven assists per game, and do a great job metering out the offensive flow for the pouncing Cougars. Iroegbu is an elite speed demon, capable of blowing past any would-be defender, while Redding is an inviting talent for Coach Kent to build around. Not really shooting threats, their ability in transition and off the dribble is what makes them dangerous.
|The speedy Iroegbu will push the pace.|
(My record on the season: 5-3. Against the spread: 5-3. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.2 pts/gm)
Lines as of Friday @ 8pm - CU -9
I'm a little torn between minds on this game. Teams who come to Boulder and try to run with the Buffs usually get shredded, but slowing down the pace seems to be the best way to stall the Cougar attack. Either way, I see a win for the Buffs. With XJ back in the fold, it should be just enough of a spark to see the team through, and get them back over .500. WSU will cover, though.
CU 70 - WSU 62
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE COUGARS!