The Colorado Buffaloes came into their Pac-12 home opener trying to get right, and they may have. Against the Washington State Cougars, they put together their best two-way performance of the season and dominated with a 92-60 win.
What went right for the Buffs?
This recap begins with Tyler Bey, who was far and away the best player on the floor. He finished with a career-high 26 points and 10 rebounds in only 25 minutes. Bey wasn’t just making the inside layups he always makes; he also extended his range, got to the foul line, and made smart plays in transition. With his rangey, fast-twitch defense and his efficient scoring, it was fitting Houston Rockets general manger Daryl Morey was in attendance (for some reason??), possibly scouting his next 3-and-D forward. CU fans better hope Tyler Bey doesn’t develop his three-point shot yet, because whenever he does, he may be gone.
On the other side of the floor, Bey was nightmare-inducing. Washington State is short on talent, and without star forward Robert Franks, true freshman C.J. Elleby (16.4 ppg, 20.5 PER) was their only option. The Buffs knew that if they could take him out, it would be an easy win. At 6’6 with a sweet left stroke, Elleby is a skilled slasher, but he was no match for Bey. Elleby had 6 points total on 2-10 shooting, and none of those points even came against Bey. He was nowhere to be seen in the second half as he was mostly glued to the bench with foul trouble.
This was a superb game for the usual supporting cast. D’Shawn Schwartz was confident and aggressive, which is largely the reason he hasn’t (yet) delivered on his promise. He was driving without hesitation, converting crafty layups and making deft passes in traffic. He finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, and that doesn’t even do him justice. Shane Gatling joined him with 17 points on 5-10 three-point shooting, perhaps a sign that he’s finally going to be the dynamic shooter we were promised. There was also Evan Battey taking advantage of an undersized Wazzu team and consuming 3,000 calories worth of glass (which converts to 14 rebounds in 25 minutes).
What went wrong?
The Buffs scored a sizable 41 points in the first half, but their process might not be great. Washington State sat back in a zone, which is exactly what you should do against the zone-adverse CU offense. The Buffs were content to pass around it and shoot over the top — usual strategy for Tad Boyle. That doesn’t work unless you shoot the lights out, which CU didn’t, at least not in the first half (4-14 from 3). That strategy worked because they shot 12-17 on 2s, which considering their inefficient shot selection of mid-range jumpers and floaters, is probably unsustainable. It only worked tonight because Wazzu lacks length and athleticism in their overmatched zone defense and is generally unable to contest those shots.
The offense sputtered early in the second half when Wazzu changed to man-to-man defense. Colorado did adjust by scoring with sheer willpower (i.e. Schwartz and Gatling hitting difficult shots), but it is concerning they struggled to generate open looks with clear one-on-one advantages across the floor. It was probably fortunate that Ernie Kent went back to a zone defense. CU also clamped down defensively and scored a ton in transition, so it was less of a surprise that they turned a could-be collapse into a blowout.
McKinley’s shot might be broken. You probably knew this already, even if Boyle doesn’t. He was never a good shooter, but this season he’s fallen to a paltry 25% on threes. He can still hit mid-range pull ups (he made several tonight) and teams still pay attention to him spotting up, but there’s no reason for the Buffs to be scheming him into open threes. It’s probably good for CU in the long run — Kin won’t leave for the NBA with a broken jumper — but he won’t maximize his potential (or the team’s) until he figures it out.
The Buffs take on Washington on Saturday (8:00 p.m., ESPNU). The Huskies are probably the best team in the conference and their defense could be impenetrable. The Buffs aren’t going to get the same easy shots with the disruptive Matisse Thybulle heading their aggressive zone defense. It’s going to be a struggle, but it’s one Colorado can win.