|Assists fueled an offensive explosion against Stanford. From: the Post.|
This offensive explosion was credited after the game to a drill instilled this week by assistant coach Bill Grier. While running plays in practice, buckets would only count if they came off a true assist. With this in the back of their minds, Colorado was certainly, to a man, willing to look for teammates Thursday night. Seven players tossed out dimes, with six of those recording at least two. For the most part these weren't extra passes for passing's sake, either. Outside of a few exceptions, each assist was necessary to create the basket, particularly the entries that helped the Buffs generate 38 points in the paint. There was even a perfectly executed alley-oop! Who are these guys, the Flint Tropics?
|All too easy. From: the BDC|
And so, the Buffs shrugged off a sour performance against Utah to get back in the hunt for an NIT bid. The next hurdle: a game against the solid, (probably) NCAA Tournament bound Cal Golden Bears. With a win the Buffs will potentially climb to the 7th-seed in the Pac-12, while similarly helping those rival Utes slot in 4th. A loss, and things could get complicated for everyone in the league. Best to just claim the win, send the seniors out in style, and step up to #7.
Hype Music for the Evening: "Seven Steps to Heaven" by Miles Davis
I don't get jazz. Never have. I put it down to a lack of drug use, but it is what it is. Regardless, Miles Davis is one of the greats of the genre, and deserves his due. This track, a live rendition of the titular anchor from his 1963 studio album, features frenetic drums, extensive solo work, and sporadic themes. Enjoy!
Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is scheduled for high noon on Saturday. Remember to get there early for the Senior Day tributes. The 2017 graduating class deserves a strong round of applause. Coverage for those unable to attend can be found on Pac-12 Network, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
For reference, my preview for the first game against Cal this season can be found here.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
The Buffs headed to Berkeley down a pair of key players. Seniors Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon were suspended on the always mysterious 'violation of team rules' -- this year's version of the 'something that always seems to happen' when Colorado visits Haas that I mentioned in my first preview. Given the shocking pregame revelation, the results, at least in the first half, were about as you would expect. CU fell behind by as many as 23 in the opening frame, were lucky to manage just a 15-point deficit at the break, and looked completely and utterly on the ropes. The Buffs, those still available to play, did show some moxie in the second half, fighting all the way back to cut the lead to just five points with a few minutes to go. In the end, however, the first half hole was dug too deep, and the final horn cried out to announce a 77-66 loss.
Yeesh, that first half. Colorado was out-rebounded 21-14, surrendered nine three-pointers, and saw the game essentially put to bed early after a 24-2 run made the score 37-14. I don't want to pin the ugly opening solely on the unexpected absence of messrs Johnson and Gordon, but they do make for convenient scapegoats. Cal's superstar sophomore, Ivan Rabb, had an easy go of it against in the first half against reserves, after all, putting up 8/6 early to underscore the point. But, of course, Rabb wasn't the only Bear on the court, and he wasn't the one with the most to show for the starting 20 minutes of the game. Guard Charlie Moore was the primary culprit, especially on the perimeter, where he hit five of his seven first half attempts from deep. He took advantage of the soft zone Colorado was forced in to playing, and was the ultimate individual cause of that big first half spread. Had CU come in with their full compliment of players, they probably don't play zone as much, and maybe the numbers are different, but it is what it is.
|The Bears belted Colorado early. From: DailyCal.org|
That result was not wholly unexpected; my preview ahead of the action warned as much. The narrative of the game, however, shows that this was an opportunity heedlessly forfeited. Colorado was never going to get back what they lost over the opening 0-7 stretch to conference play, but a win here could've opened the Buffs up for a heroic push back to .500 and beyond. Instead, here we are today, with the team still fighting for the postseason lives. Hopefully, today's effort can reverse last month's result in the Bay Area.
The Golden Bears since then -
Cal has been in a semi-free fall since Colorado left town. After wining the following game in Tempe against Arizona State, the Bears went on to lose four of five, putting their Tournament lives, once so assured by braketologists across the nation, on the verge of collapse. The first three losses weren't that bad, dropping a trio to Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon by a combined total of 13 points, but a blowout 30-point defeat to Utah on Thursday sent signals that something is rotten in Berkeley. They're now 19-10 overall, 10-7 in conference, and seemingly about to drop out of a top-four seed they appeared to have a lock on as recently as last week.
|Teams have been flexing on the Bears, of late. From: AZCentral.com|
Still, Cal is a pretty solid basketball team, all things considered. They continue to boast a strong corps of premier forwards that can muck up anything that opponents throw at them; their defense, despite a few rocky patches, is about as good as you'll find in the Pac-12; and they continue to rebound the hell out of the basketball. Even with the recent losses, and acknowledging an offensive profile that was never all that sexy, there are some stats that really jump off the page. How can you turn away from an offensive rebounding rate well over 34%, or a defensive eFG% of 46.7? This is a team, even in a slump, that can make you work on every possession, and force you to execute against their strengths. It's no fluke, even given the suspensions last month, that they worked CU out of the gate. Over-look their challenge at your peril.
|Cal has been missing the explosive play for Moore. From: the Daily Californian|
Why things could be different -
It will help matters greatly that Colorado's two senior forwards, Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon, will be available today. Cal took advantage of utter chaos in the paint in the first meeting, storming out to an early edge against a discombobulated CU zone. With those two back, expect the Buffs to come out in the man-to-man and stick there, something that should cut down on the open looks and free rebounds that were typical of the first half back in Berkeley. I'm not saying that the seniors will be the difference, but their presence will be a step in the direction of normalcy.
|CU needs to chip into Cal's rebounding edge from the first meeting. From: SFGate|
Finally, look for a little senior day magic. This is probably the last home game for Josh Fortune, Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson, ad Derrick White, barring a surprise home date in the NIT. White, especially, feels like he could go off on a grand stage. If he's pumping in points, the Buffs are sharing the ball well, and the rebounding discrepancy is cleared up a bit, CU should be in good position to claim this one.
My record this year: 11-6. Against the spread: 7-10. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.94 pt/gm)
Lines as of Friday @ 8pm - CU -2, O/U 134
The Cal team the Utes got to face Thursday, beating them by 30, will not be the team Colorado gets this afternoon. Teams usually bounce back at this level, especially those with the type of talent and defensive capabilities that the Golden Bears possess. So, expect a good showing from the visitors.
Still, I'm not going to bet against CU on their senior day. Given a better seal on the defensive glass, revenge performances from Johnson and Gordon underneath, and Derrick White going off, I'll take the Buffs in a close one.
CU 75 - Cal 72
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE GOLDEN BEARS!