Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: In Which Coach Boyle (jokingly) Offers a Refund

No time for idle chat in this shortened work-week. Today in the bag, I'm talking the narrow escape against Nebraska-Omaha, the frustration in Pullman, and runners-up honors for the #BananaStand.

Click below for the bag...

Mavericks give Buffs all they can handle - 
"Nebraska Omaha deserved to win this game. They outplayed us in a lot of different areas. We did what we had to do to win this thing – we really rebounded well – but without Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon tonight, I think we lose by 20 or 25 points" - Tad Boyle
As you can tell with the quote above, Coach Boyle was less than thrilled with CU's 87-82 Sunday afternoon win over Nebraska-Omaha.  In his post-game presser, Boyle blasted everything from his team's overall effort, to the weak-ass perimeter defense displayed by his guards (17 layups), and the shockingly low assist total (nine on 24 made baskets), even going so far as to (jokingly) offer the fans in attendance a refund.  The underlining thread was that this was a return to last year's malaise; not a welcome sight, at all. We can all take comfort in the fact that the Buffs did not, in fact, blow the two-foot putt, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
It took a lot of interior defense to hold off the feisty Mavericks.  From: USA Today
The ugliness started about midway through the first half.  With the noon tip on a Broncos Sunday, the gym was lifeless, and the players seemed similarly sapped of energy.  When jump shots, many taken outside of the offense's rhythm, refused to drop, scoring stagnated, defensive focus flagged, and the Mavericks began to take control. Devin Patterson was particularly good, getting into rhythm, and abusing CU on the edge; he would finish with a game-high 19 points. It wasn't just that the run of play was ugly, though, or that basic mistakes were being made. It was that the team seemed completely unwilling to do the little things that serve them so well.  The Buffs stopped attacking the rim, They stopped getting Josh Scott the ball in the paint, they stopped rebounding the basketball, they stopped making free throws, and they stopped guarding the perimeter with any urgency.  In short, they stopped playing #TadBall, more going through the motions than anything else.  It nearly cost them, too, with UNO girding out a 38-32 halftime lead before bounding out of the locker room on a quick 7-0 run to open up a 45-32 spread -- their largest of the game.

Luckily, that run seemed to be the wake-up call that the snoozing Buffs were looking for.  It started with Josh Scott stepping up, and asserting himself on both ends of the court.  He was a defensive terror, clamping down on interior action (three blocks), and sealing off the boards (14 rebounds).  Combined with front court mate Wes Gordon, it was the forwards, not the scoring wings, who bailed Colorado out of this one, as the pair linked up for a total line of 26/19/4/6.  With the bigs leading the way, CU had evened up the score by the under-12 timeout, and made more than enough free throws down the stretch to keep the Mavs at arms length until the buzzer (34-46 overall).  For the moment, at least, disaster averted.
It was far too easy for Omaha to leave the Buffs scrambling at the perimeter.  From: the Post.
But cracks in the backcourt foundation continue to show, and it's hard not to raise a concerned eyebrow. Point guard play was particularly bad, with Coach Boyle's frustration so evident that he put walkon Brett Brady into the game in the first half. Dom Collier would finish with 13 points, largely off of 6-6 shooting from the charity stripe, but he continued to struggle with staying in front of his man on defense, and couldn't get his teammates in positions to score on the other end (one assist).  If anything, backups Xavier Talton and Akyazili Thomas were worse.  Talton posted a 0:2 assist to turnover ratio, while the freshman Thomas put in a very quiet 16 minutes.  For stretches, those two were on the court together (with Collier relegated to the bench), and those stretches just happened to be the worst of the game for Colorado.  The scoring wings weren't much better, with Josh Fortune fighting foul trouble all day (a step slow on defense the cause) befor eventually fouling out, while Tre'Shaun Fletcher was muted offensively in the first half, and George King missed his early jumpers (often losing his man on defense, to boot). Fletch and King did help lead the revival in the second half, finishing with 31 points, but the first half performance spoke volumes. All-in-all, a brutal day from the guards -- as Tad said in the press conference, they need a 'come to Jesus' meeting with themselves.

But, as Coach always says, it's easier to learn in the wake of a win than a loss.  With the Thanksgiving break upon us, the coaching staff can have the team in the gym early and often.  Expect them to do just that, as they try to get them to realize that they can't just take success against this lulling non-conference schedule lightly. Case-in-point, Wednesday's coming affair with Air Force.  Skimp on prep for those guys, and they will execute you to death.  Hopefully, the team takes those lessons to heart, and come out ready to play on Turkey Day Eve.  I'll have a teaser up tomorrow.

Wazzou pummels Football Buffs in Pullman - 

Down a starting quarterback, the Buffs turned to freshman QB Cade Apsay for the start of their season-ending road trip against #24 Washington State.  The results were... well, they weren't very good. CU could only rack up 323 yards of offense on only 4.5 per snap, and Diego Gonzalez missed his first two field goal attempts when the game was still close.  While the defense did some of what was required to stunt the vaunted Cougar attack, empty possession and empty possession from the offense stacked up, and kept Colorado from being legitimately competitive.  The final, 27-3, tells you about all you really need to know about this one.
Apsay wasn't bad in his first start, but the lack of offense really hurt.  From: the Post
His detractors may not want to hear it, but this team really missed Sefo Liufau Saturday night.  Nothing against Apsay, who was far from horrible against the Cougars, but Colorado should've had more against a very middling Pac-12 defense.  Besides not getting the team in the endzone, Cade threw two interceptions, and, more importantly, the presence of a neophyte under center allowed WSU to stack the box against the run.  All told, the Buffs only got 85 yards on 30 carries, good for less than three yards per touch.  The Cougars were loathe to respect CU downfield, and weren't made to pay for it, either. I can't complain too loudly - a freshman QB making his first start on the road against a top-25 team and struggling is hardly earth shattering, after all - but the Buffs should've been better at this point in the season.

Defensively, while Cougar QB Luke Falk put up very efficient numbers in the first half (21-23, 156 yards and a score), the Buffs were doing just enough good things to keep the team in the ball game.  Despite all the misfires from the offense - missed field goals, blown fourth-and-goals, dropped passes, penalties - CU was only down 14-0 at halftime, and had plenty of opportunities to get into the game.  Overall, not an awful effort, and one that, backed with a little offensive help, could've made for winning football.  If you want nits to pick, however, don't look at Falk's numbers, look to the ground war where they got a little gashed; WSU back Gerard Wicks scampered for 123 yards on just 13 carries.  Against the air raid, surrendering those kinds of numbers in the running game is an awful sign, as Wicks kept drives alive and the chains moving.
CU Couldn't get anything going on the ground.  From:
With one final game left to play, there's not much left for the Buffs to strive for.  The faint hopes of a bowl berth have finally been extinguished, and they can't even play spoiler as the Utes are already eliminated from the possibility of a Pac-12 title game appearance.  There's always the normal prideful platitudes to talk about, but, for all intents and purposes, the season is done and dusted before the trip into the Wasatch even begins. At this point, I'm just hoping everyone comes back injury-free.  I'll have a teaser (not a preview, mind you) up Friday morning-ish, along with the usual beer pick.

#BananaStand comes up just short at nationals - 

There's always championships in the #BananaStand, or at least there usually are.  It seemed like such a foregone conclusion for the Colorado men's cross country team to win their third-consecutive national title this season, that I would've bet the farm on them doing just that if only Vegas took wagers on NCAA harrier results. But, in a stunning turn of events, it was the Syracuse Orange, not the Buffs, who took home men's team gold at this weekend's National Championships in Louisville, KY.  Keeping with the Arrested Development theme, I think this calls for a good, old fashioned sad walk.

The men barely missed out on the crown, finishing just nine points behind the eventual champions. Pierce Murphy lead the attack for the Buffs, as he finished third overall behind the front-running pair of Oregon's Edward Cheserek and Villanova's Patrick Tiernan.  The senior from Hawai'i charged down the final stretch, climbing past fading rivals, hoping to give the Buffs the low top-finisher they would need. Unfortunately, Syracuse was able to place three in the top-10, and CU didn't get another runner in the top-15.  When the Orange's final two scorers were able to slip into the top-35, it was all over.
Murphy ran a great race for the Buffs, but it just wasn't enough to get them the title.  From:
Opportunity lost, then, for the men, who saw their national dynasty disrupted despite having championship-caliber talent. They had lead the national polls pretty much all the way since their 2013 title, and seemed like a shoe-in. This kind of thinking, however, plays into something I want to avoid: taking the cross country program (and the skiing program, for that matter) for granted.  In isolation, second place is an awesome finish, and something the team can be proud of.  Going forward, the men will lose a lot, as the highly decorated senior class leaves a strong legacy in their wake, but I wouldn't count out another title chase next fall just yet. This program is built to last, after all.

The women, not nearly as dominant on the national stage (yet), also came in second in Louisville.  It's a really nice finish for the team, who finished 80 points behind eventual champions New Mexico.  That may sound like a lot, and it is, but no one was catching the Lobos this weekend.  They placed all five of their scorers in the top-20, and no other team had more than two.  The Buffs were paced by junior Erin Clark, who finished 10th overall.  These ladies could be set up for even greater things next fall, however, as they will return all but one of their runners from the weekend.  Continuity, as with every collegiate sport, is key.

Happy Tuesday!

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