Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: The Games They Remember Are Played In November

At the beginning of the year, the Colorado Football Team announced their stated goal of becoming 'Pac-12 champs, on and off the field.'  While I am unable to comment on the pursuit of any championships away from the gridiron, I'd be hard-pressed not to note the position that the team has put themselves in, entering the final two weeks of the regular season.  Alone atop the Pac-12 South standings, the Buffs control their own destiny in pursuit of that stated goal, needing just two wins to make the conference's championship game in Santa Clara.  The most storied ride in the modern history of the program is coming to a head; now it's time to see just what this team is made of.

It won't be easy, of course.  While both games are at home, they will each be against teams ranked in the top-25.  Competitive and tough, both the Washington State Cougars and the Utah Utes are worthy opponents for the stage. A stumble against either would most likely eliminate CU from title contention.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

These will be the most important games played in Folsom since 62-36 in 2001.  Woe to you, the Buff fan who won't make a point of being there for both.  These are the games you become a fan for, the kind that keep you up at night in anticipation.  If you can't be bothered to get your ass to Boulder to see a pair of top-25 matchups with a conference title on the line, then turn your fan card in tomorrow.


Today in the bag, I'm talking last night's CU/Seattle basketball game, the football win in Tucson, and the Soccer Team's activity in the NCAA Tournament.

Click below for the bag...

CU vs Seattle Basketball Wrap - 

November basketball is often like Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get.  Such was the case this week, as the Buffs faced off against Sacramento State and Seattle. Coming off an opening night win where CU surprised by shooting 62% from deep en route to a 47-point win over a decent bunch of Hornets, they turned around to lay a stinker against the Redhawks. It was a surprisingly dour affair on Monday evening, as Colorado had to scratch and claw to the finish before salvaging the win late.  The final tally, 67-55, belies the struggle, but still left everyone in attendance with an uneasy feeling about the team just two games into the year.

Coming out in a dead gym (less than 7,000 were in attendance, including just a handful of students), the Buffs struggled to find the mark against a zone defense, raising some eyebrows. For the evening, the Buffaloes would shoot just 36% from the field, and 17% from three-point range -- I couldn't have been the only BasketBuff seeing flashes of CBI-losses past as the team bricked shot after shot from the floor.  These unexpected shooting issues lead to some nervous moments, with Seattle taking advantage to build a first half lead, only compounded by a frustrating increase in turnovers as panic took hold in the Colorado backcourt.
XJ and the Buffs barely earned their CBI-fueled revenge over Seattle. From: the BDC
You would think that the expert shooting touch that the team has displayed over the last year would translate well against a packed-in 2-3, but that just wasn't the case here.  Everyone was missing, and, at one point, CU was 1-15 from deep.  I didn't feel that the looks were rushed, though, and, outside of the three attempts from Thomas Akyazili, they were from players you would want shooting. The shots just didn't fall.  Just as the team was never going to shoot 62% on outside jumpers for the rest of the season, as they did in the opener, they won't slump under 20%, either.  Until I see evidence to the contrary, I'll chalk this up as simply a bad night, and move on.

Lucky, then, as the team slumped offensively, the defense and rebounding picked up over what we saw against Sacramento State.  For the game, Colorado was +20 in rebounding, including 19 offensive boards, and Seattle barely cracked 30% shooting. Certainly, SU's penchant to leave the offensive glass alone helped here, but I still liked what I saw from the Buffs in pursuit of loose boards much more than I did against the Hornets.  Defensively, while there were still some off-ball issues and open shooters, I still noted improvement on the ball, particularly out of the locker room in the second half, and it helped CU turn a halftime tie into a double-digit second half lead. While the Redhawks stormed back late, a pair of late threes from Josh Fortune were all that was needed to seal the result for the good guys.
White was on his game Monday.  From: the Post
We've now seen the danger. On a night when this team is struggling to hit from the outside, it will get ugly, and the Buffs will be vulnerable.  My only solace here is that the team was able to circle the wagons, and still get the win.  One counter to evenings such as these -- and we will see them again -- would be a player like Derrick White stepping up to take control of the game before the die is cast. There were multiple points Monday where I felt White was on the verge of grabbing the action by the throat, and really powering the team.  While that seems to be outside his character, calling for a sense of selfishness, and the team theoretically has a number of veteran leaders who could fill this role, Derrick seems to be the most capable to lead in these scenarios.  He did finish with a scintillating 15/6/2/1/1 line, but it could've been more, and it could've put both the game and fears to rest earlier.

Regardless, the Buffs won.  You've heard of survive and advance?  It's a mentality that serves well in the doldrums of November, too.  I'll take the win, happily, and look forward to Thursday night, when Louisiana-Monroe comes to town.  Just one last opportunity for the Buffs to tighten the screws before heading to Brooklyn; I hope they take advantage.

Buffs fight off desert ambush from Arizona - 

At this point in the season, with the Buffs still in contention for everything they've dreamed of, style points can be thrown out the window.  This is now a zero-sum venture; win or lose, nothing else matters.  That's why I didn't bat an eye at the partially discordant run of play in Colorado's 49-24 win over Arizona this weekend.  No, I tipped my hat, said 'thank you, CU,' and moved on to thoughts of Washington State.

There will be some consternation at the aesthetics of the result.  The 25-point margin aside, the Wildcats were able to move the football efficiently, and put the fear of another Hawk-esque road implosion into the hearts of BuffNation with 14 unanswered points to start the 4th quarter.  Certainly, even I started sweating over the defense's inability to squelch-out the UofA rushing attack, which put up 257 yards in a largely effortless fashion. Still, a win is a win, and the Buffs did everything they needed to do in Tucson. 
Sefo returned to form against Arizona.  From: the AP
The effort was lead, for the first time in nearly a month, by the offense.  Sefo Liufau, who, despite all he's done for his team, had started to get some residual flack after inconsistent efforts against Stanford and UCLA, had a strong game.  With 213 yards and three scores against just one tipped interception, he re-asserted himself into the flow of the action, forcing Arizona to account for more than just the first five-to-ten yards past the line of scrimmage.  Given some better, though not perfect, protection from his offensive line, Liufau had a good connection going with Shay Fields, and stretched his reads deep into the defensive backfield. Granted, the UofA defense leaks like a sieve, but this was the best those in Black and Gold have looked with the ball since against Arizona State.

One nit I will pick, however, is Colorado's penchant for shutting things down too early, at least offensively.  Mid-way through the 3rd quarter, with a 32-point lead, the Buffs started to go vanilla with the ball in their hands.  This lead to a switch in momentum, with the Wildcats clawing their way back into the action.  Luckily, the Buffs would go on to score a final touchdown to seal the win and forestall a devastating comeback, but I couldn't have been the only CU fan to nervously start chomping on whatever food was put in front of me when the 'Cats cut the lead to 18 points with 12 minutes to go.  We've seen this before -- the Colorado offense can look free flowing and inventive when it wants to, but can also let teams off the hook as the third and fourth quarters drag on.  To date, it hasn't burned them, but, with some explosive, cheeky teams on the remaining schedule, CU will need the ability to set leads in stone late in the ballgame.  As any racer will tell you: stay on the gas til the finish line.
Lindsay and the Buffs can't let teams off the hook, offensively.  From:
Attention now turns to the visiting Cougars.  Washington State, very quietly, remains the lone undefeated team in Pac-12 play, having leapfrogged the Washington Huskies, who couldn't defend Seattle against the Trojan invasion on Saturday.  If you haven't watched Wazzou this season, they are not the soft, all-offense version of a Mike Leach team that you may be accustomed to.  They are callous, physical, and tough, and will not be pushed over by any brief display.  Colorado will have to earn their win against them, making this one of the most dangerous fixtures on the schedule to date. My teaser will be up later this week, but feel free to start clutching at your beads now.

The Bulle(i)t Points - 

  • It was a near-perfect day from the specialists.  Kinney boomed all five of his punts, Chris Graham earned touch-backs on five of eight kickoffs, and returning placekicker Davis Price confidently nailed all seven extra points.  Thumbs up, all around.
  • Phil Lindsay is incredible.  25 attempts for 119 total yards and three scores, he got his numbers in while helping to keep the chains moving.  So good, so underrated.
  • No interceptions, but the turnover streak survives, thanks to Rick Gamboa's second quarter fumble recovery. It didn't lead to a score, with the Buffs going three-and-out on the next possession, but it was important, all the same.

Soccer Team soldiers on - 

After their run at a improbable Pac-12 title petered out against USC and Utah at home, the Colorado Women's Soccer team is storming into the NCAA Tournament with a chip on their shoulder and an eye on the Sweet Sixteen.
Evans and the Buffs survive and advance. From: CU Soccer on Facebook
They opened their account at home against old Big XII rival Oklahoma State on Saturday, getting rewarded with a game at Prentup for their 3rd place finish in the Conference of Champions.  The action was tight throughout, but, thanks to a pair of first half own goals from the Cowgirls, CU remained on the front foot for the full 90. While OSU would get one of those goals back in the 53rd minute, the Colorado ladies played expert defense the rest of the way, and sealed the win with a Danica Evans goal 12 seconds from full time. 3-1, your final; Buffs advance.

Advancing past the Round of 32, however, will not be easy.  From here, they have to travel all the way to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the USC Gamecocks.  If you were not already aware, Carolina was granted one of the precious 1-seeds in the field of 64 after a season where they lost just once (last week in the SEC tournament), and didn't allow any opponent to score more than one goal against them.  They are fantastically talented, and a bear of a challenge.  It's that time of year, however, and I've long since given up counting these Buffs out.  The action will kick-off Thursday evening, right about the same time the men's basketball team is tipping-off against ULM.  Go get 'em, Buffs!

Happy Tuesday!

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