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Colorado muscles past Washington, wins 76-62

It was a tough game, but it ended up a comfortable win.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In a game of extreme high and lows, the Colorado Buffaloes (16-4, 5-2) were able to stave off the Washington Huskies (12-9, 2-6). Always a tough opponent for the Buffs, it was a comfortable 76-62 win that should inspire both learning lessons and confidence moving forward.

Washington’s zone-heavy defense is one of the best in the nation — they’re rated 22nd in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com — so the Buffs tried to cause havoc on defense and on the offensive glass so that they could generate easy buckets. Colorado came out with terrific energy and made those plays happen. In the first five minutes alone, CU snatched 4 live-ball steals, grabbed 3 offensive rebounds and even hit three three-pointers. They jumped out to an early 16-7 lead after Lucas Siewert’s three-pointer punctuated CU’s early control.

When CU wasn’t hounding the ball, they were drilling jumpers like it was nothing. Washington allows a ton of threes by design, but rarely do college basketball teams make enough threes to win that way. (CU proved that in the second half.) The Buffs were on fire early on, particularly the bench. The second unit entered the game with a 14-7 lead and built it to 27-11. Siewert, Shane Gatling and Maddox Daniels combined for 4 made three-pointers in that stretch. Colorado ended up shooting 7 of 11 from three in the half, easily their most efficient shooting half this season.

Colorado continued to execute their first half gameplan to perfection. Besides just the shooting, Boyle borrowed zone-busting schemes from CU women’s head coach JR Payne. The Buffs did not stop moving and that resulted in easy passes to the soft spots in the defense. With everyone hitting shots — well, everyone except Bey, who made 3 of 10 field goals — it was easy to score. CU led 51-33 at halftime, and it would have been a lot worse if not for RaeQuan Battle and Isaiah Stewart combining for 28 points.

Colorado was never going to shoot that well all game. There’s regression, there’s Washington adjusting to pressure shooters, and there’s Tad Boyle being wise enough to not settle for those jumpers. That’s all fine and what not, but hitting threes is the easiest way to score against Washington’s zone. Instead of shooting, Colorado tried to attack the rim. That worked to get transition buckets and draw fouls, but in the half-court the Huskies denied everything in the paint. Bey had a particularly rough offensive showing — he was a superstar on the other end — and was blocked at the rim three times by Stewart.

What was once a 20-point lead turned into a 11-point game with 10:30 left to play. Washington’s defense stepped up their game and they continued their uncharacteristically hot shooting outside. The Huskies have shot just 29% from deep during Pac-12 but made 11 of 23 threes tonight. During that 16-9 run in which they cut down that lead, the Huskies made three shots from deep; if you want to blame anyone, note that Boyle had some words for Maddox Daniels and Daylen Kountz about their perimeter defense.

Colorado’s offense was decrepit in the second half. Tonight followed the recipe for a gut-wrenching collapse with Washington shooting as well as they did. The only thing that stopped that from happening was Washington’s carelessness with the ball. Colorado’s defense is so tight that opponents force the issue whenever there’s a small opening, which often results in turnovers. Led by Bey and Schwartz snagging 3 steals each, the Buffs forced Washington into 20 turnovers and plenty of other sloppy mistakes. Some of those were all Washington’s fault — like Bryan Penn-Johnson missing a dunk, grabbing the rim to get the rebound (very much not allowed) and committing a technical foul for arguing the call — but 20 turnovers is still 20 turnovers.

The Buffs got just enough effort points to finish it off. They ended up winning 76-62, which might look closer to a blowout than a potential collapse. Still, after a flawless first half, you know they’re going to be frustrated with such a sloppy finish to the game. It’s still a win over a difficult opponent and they will have something to prove next time out.

Next up for the Buffs is a road trip to Los Angeles. They play the woeful UCLA Bruins on Thursday night, then the resurgent USC Trojans on Saturday. UCLA is a must-win for the tournament resume and USC is a must-win for Tad Boyle’s rivalry with Andy Enfield.