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Colorado impresses, but falls to Iowa

The Buffs couldn’t hang on in a tough atmosphere

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Iowa Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes (8-4) showed great signs for the future, but they were out-muscled and out-executed in an 80-73 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-6).

The Buffs went with a ultra-small starting lineup with Tyler Bey playing the 5, which made this the smallest Colorado lineup since, like, 1970 or something. Small-ball is fun on offense, but when you’re going against a huge team like Iowa, you’re in serious danger of getting dominated inside. That’s exactly what happened in the opening 10 minutes of this game. Tyler Cook and the Hawkeyes’ bigs were feeding inside and gobbling up every rebound. On the other side, the Buffs struggled against Iowa’s zone and were unable to find clean shots inside or out. With the Buffs unable to hit shots, Iowa had a lead as large as 28-18 and somehow it felt much larger.

With a 10-point deficit, Colorado did a full 180-degree turn and went on a 10-0 lead. The Buffs were still badly outrebounded, but their run was powered by frenzied defense, aggressive scoring and lots of McKinley Wright doing McKinley Wright things. The freshman phenom — the future of Colorado basketball — was all over the place harassing ballhandlers and hitting tough shots. Wright was the leader of the defense that forced 10 turnovers in the first half, 6 of which on live-ball steals that led to quick points in transition. Not to be forgotten, Dallas Walton was superb in the first half as well. He made his first four buckets, rebounded well, picked up a steal and blocked a shot. More importantly, he was an inside presence that the Buffs desperately needed to combat the Iowa bigs. The Buffs finished the first half strong and went into halftime trailing just 32-31.

Colorado continued this run in the second half, mostly because of more Iowa turnovers forced in an impressive defensive showing. George King and others were getting buckets on layups and threes in transition, but that only lasted until the Hawkeyes took better care of the ball. Once Iowa stopped committed a turnover per minute, the Buffs were in trouble. In a slowed down game, Iowa’s superior size and offensive execution saw them go on a 13-2 run to take a sizable 65-55 lead with 6:25 left. Colorado fought back as they always do, but even with McKinley Wright’s pointsplosion at the end, they were unable to regain control of the game and fell by the final score of 80-71.

If you want to cast blame or whatever, you can look at CU shooting only 9-17 from free throw and 6-23 from three, but really, you should be excited about this game, not frustrated. Iowa isn’t the best team CU has played this season, but they’re solid and Hawkeyes fans made this a difficult environment in a packed Sioux Falls arena. The Buffs adjusted all game, played hard, executed relatively well and flashed potential yet unrealized. Just look at the Tad Poles: Wright and Walton were fantastic, D’Shawn Schwartz and Tyler Bey were great defensively, and even Deleon Brown showed what he can do when he’s aggressive. This season is less about winning and more about the kids developing, so this was a encouraging game. Now that Pac-12 play is just around the corner and wins will likely be few and far between, adjust your expectations if you haven’t already and this season will be much more enjoyable.

Next up for the Buffs is a road game at Oregon State (8-4) on December 29 at 9 p.m. (ESPNU). The Beavers were a disaster last season, but this team is actually solid this year. The Buffs could start Pac-12 play with a road win, but they’re going to have to bring it.