Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: A Winless, Yet Informative, Road Trip

I'm absolutely slammed this week, so straight to the action. Today in the bag, I'm talking the proceedings in Tucson, how the rest of the Pac-12 has been faring in basketball, and college football's national title game through a Bill Walton lens.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs show heart, still lose at McKale - 

Colorado was always going to be up against it in the belly of the beast.  Arizona, in their home environs, can be a nasty foe, and nothing but a near-perfect effort from the Buffs was ever going to be enough to clip them in McKale.  But, for a time at least, that seemed as if it was exactly what we were getting from our Black and Gold clad heroes. They strutted into the desert's basketball palace like they owned the place, firing on all cylinders out of the locker room.  In the blink of an eye CU would claim an early 10-1 lead, keeping the Wildcats at bay for the opening 6ish minutes.  All of BuffNation was allowed to believe, if only for a moment, that #JusticeForSab would finally be served.

Then, the good mojo up and vanished like a fart in the wind.  Arizona broke out on a 17-2 run, got the crowd and the refs in on the action, and started to pull away.  By halftime, the Buffs would be down 12; by the 16 minute mark of the 2nd half, the lead was a full 20.  While CU would fight to the end, thrashing and clawing their way back to just a five point deficit with three minutes to play, that extended run to the first media timeout of the final frame was the backbreaker, and Colorado was eventually forced to settle for an 82-73 loss.
XJ and the Buffs went right into the paint.  From: the AP
Though I wasn't able to watch the game live, probably the most interesting thing I caught on my DVR-aided viewing was the play of Colorado's forward corps.  CU not only stood up to the imposing Wildcats in the paint, to a large extent they played with parity.  The Buffs out-rebounded 'Zona by six, and out-scored them down low by 10.  Much of that came down to the play of George King, Wes Gordon, and Xavier Johnson.  Even with a number of tall trees in their way, the trio of forwards combined for 54/26 on plenty of activity in the post.  This is some of the best we've seen from the Colorado front court all season, and is hopefully something that could lead to a trend.

The unfortunate thing is that those performances were not backed up by much from the backcourt. Not only did guards like Derrick White and Josh Fortune struggle for nearly as many combined turnovers (seven) as points (nine), but the Buffs were also gutted from the perimeter defensively.  The UofA shot 8-14 (57%) from beyond the arc for the game; add that to the always kind home whistle (33 'Zona free throw attempts to CU's 14), and there's just not much room for safe footing.  A little more production from the guards on both ends, however, and Colorado may have been within with a shout of victory.
Tad was... not please with some of the officiating.  From: the AP
The reality is, however, that CU is limping home with a three game losing streak stuffed in their overhead luggage.  At the beginning of the season, we all knew such a run was a possibility with three-straight tough road spots opening up the conference calendar. Watching the losses pile up in living color, though, is still painful.  I will say, however, that the Buffs, even in defeat, showed me something in Arizona this past week -- they have a lot of heart.  In both Tempe and Tucson, they gutted out gritty, potentially winning performances, putting a scare into both opponents in hostile territory.  While you always want the tic marks going in the left-hand column, and moral victories are for losers, I'm much more comfortable with the direction of the team now than I was after the Utah loss.  If they can find a way to hold serve at home this week against the LA duo - no small feat, that - suddenly, we have have a team with a plottable upward trajectory on our hands.

Around the world of Pac-12 Basketball - 

- UCLA 89 - Stanford 75 -

Colorado's next opponent, UCLA, cruised to their third conference win Sunday afternoon.  The Bruins, a hearty 21-point favorite on home hardwood, had built an 18-point lead headed into the break, but struggled to completely shelve the visitors in the second half.  Maybe it's just a matter of getting bored?  UCLA head man Steve Alford certainly thought so, pegging the inconsistent final 20 minutes on lazy defensive execution.  Regardless, the Bruins got their 16th win, padding their fourth-ranked resume ahead of their visit to Boulder.
Lonzo is too good.  From: CSN Bay Area.
The star, as he is most nights in Los Angeles, was freshman guard Lonzo Ball.  The budding phenom contributed 21/6/8 on just 10 shots, playing efficient, all-encompassing basketball.  Probably the best, and most unique talent in the league this year, I simply can't wait to see him live in a few days.  For the Cardinal, they enjoyed a massive night from forward Michael Humphrey, who logged 27/14 before fouling out late in the action.

- Cal 74 - USC 73 - 

The Trojans had been a second-tier talk of the town in La La Land, roaring out to a 14-0 start before the new year.  However, a visit to Eugene, and an ensuing blowout loss to the Ducks, have stunted their progress.  USC only furthered their inconsistent start to league play with this one point home loss to Cal over the weekend.  With a difficult run to the Ski Schools on their horizon, could the Trojans be crashing back to earth here in early January?
Rabb and Cal come up with a big win.  From: the SF Gate
The game turned on the final play, with with Golden Bear superstar Ivan Rabb sealing the win with a key block of USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin at the buzzer.  Rabb also posted the winning free throws on the proceeding possession, capping a strong 17/8 performance on the road.  Cal now gets to enjoy a pair of home games against the lowly Washingtons, which should pad their record nicely after the first third of Pac-12 action.

- Utah 88 - ASU 82 - 

I still don't know what to make of Utah.  They have some interesting pieces, but I don't really see them as a top-four kind of squad.  Credit where it's due, however, they went into Tempe and clipped the boastful Sun Devils.  It helps that forward Kyle Kuzma is back and healthy -- he put up 26/12/4 on 17 shots and 3-4 shooting from deep.  If he's at the top of his game, the Utes very well could crack that top-four.
Kuzma good, yo.  From: Block U
I'm honestly very interested to hear the outcome of their Thursday night tilt with USC.  Not only is it a chance to gauge just where the Trojans are headed, it's also a good litmus for the Utes.  It's a game Utah should win, and they game they need to win if they want to climb out of the RPI hole coach Krystkowiak dug for them (currently in the 120s, despite a 11-4 record).  I'm definitely hitting 'record' for that one.

- Oregon 85 - Washington State 66 -

Last, but not least, Oregon has been, quietly, surging.  Since losing two of their first four, including an unsightly gaffe against 9-8 Georgetown, they've yet to lose.  The nosiest result in that run came against UCLA, where they handed the Bruins their only defeat on the year in dramatic, buzzer-beater fashion.  You'd be forgiven for having written the Ducks off early, but the time to doubt them now seems past -- the team we expected to see prior to the season looks to be back.
Brooks had to watch from the sideline, but the Ducks still rolled against the Cougs.  From: the AP
The key to the resurgence has been the healthy return of all-world point forward Dillon Brooks.  The Canadian starlet missed most of offseason workouts with a foot injury that eventually required surgery. His performances in the double-wins over UCLA and USC, however, seem to indicate he is back in the flow, along with his team; Brooks put up a combined 51/12/7 over the two games. While he only logged 25 combined minutes in two blowout wins against the Washingtons, part of that was due to a flagrant-II ejection in this game against the Cougars.  I expect him to be back and active against Oregon State this Saturday, and for the Ducks to remain on the front foot until February 4th, when they get a visit from Arizona.

The National Title Game - 

I tried.  I really tried to watch the CFP National Championship last night with the national feed.  I just realized after five minutes that I didn't care.  Not one bit.  So, I started flipping channels.  Hey, Mac was on ESPN News, that was cool.  Not cool enough to get me to stop and watch, but cool.  A few more flips, however, brought me to ESPNU's coverage of the event, which included this:
Yes... this is how I want to consume my football, with a juggling, possibly stoned, Uncle Sam-clad Bill Walton taking precedence over the game itself.  One milk run and an emergency call to Boulder Baked later, and I was in a groove.  Surprisingly, however, I don't really remember much of what I think I watched.  There was some scoring, Keyshaun Johnson was bizarrely wearing Husker gear, and Walton did his usual pontification on existence.  Oh, and the cookies were delicious.  So, so delicious. ...

Right, right, right... the game.  Well, long after I passed out and went for the comfort of my bed, the Clemson Tigers came alive.  They would score 28 of the evening's final 42 points, including two touchdowns in the closing five minutes of action.  It was a burst of scoring I wouldn't have thought possible against the vaunted Alabama defense, but there they were, erasing a 10-point 4th quarter deficit.
Who saw that final play coming?  From: the Sporting News
While the Tide would score a go-ahead touchdown with about two minutes to play, Clemson had the last word, marching the length of the field with their final possession.  With just six seconds to play, and the ball placed at the 'Bama two-yard-line, they eschewed what would've been a game-tying field goal try for the win.  In a play for the ages, Tiger QB Deshaun Watson found former walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow in the short corner of the endzone for the winning points.  Game over, season over; Clemson wins their first title since 1981.  In the end, a very good game.  Not as good as the cookies, but good, nonetheless.

Happy Tuesday!

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