Following a hard-fought loss to the #5 UCLA Bruins, the Colorado Buffaloes struggled against the #13 Tennessee Volunteers. The Buffs couldn’t handle the Vols’ combination of wily veterans and freaky athletic freshmen, ultimately falling 69-54.
The Buffs started strong, using handoffs and cuts to generate high quality shots both inside and out. But those actions only work if the passes are crisp and the guards aren’t getting pick-pocketed. Against this Tennessee defense, with arms and legs flailing around, the Colorado offense turned into a parade of sloppy turnovers. Maybe the offense would have looked better if Jabari Walker hadn’t picked up the tickiest tackiest 2nd foul, but most of their struggles were self-inflicted.
Of the Buffs’ 12 first half turnovers, 7 of those were live-ball steals, meaning the Vols were able to turn CU’s empty possessions into transition opportunities. Freshman Kennedy Chandler was a nightmare pushing the pace, as he had 16 points and 2 assists (in the first half) on a series of fast break layups. If Tennessee could shoot at all — they went 2/11 from 3 and 0/4 from the line — this halftime deficit would have been worse than 34-24.
Colorado cleaned up the offense and fought back. Not that they scored efficiently — their three best scorers, Keeshawn Barthelemy, Evan Battey and Jabari Walker, combined to shoot 9/33 (27%) from the field — but they made enough shots to make this a game. Credit should go to Tristan da Silva for getting to the basket with his awkward, off-kilter drives, and to KJ Simpson for being an emotional leader and dunking on three Vols.
After the Buffs cut the lead to 46-41 with 10 minutes left, the Vols hit some tough shots and started to pull away. It was mostly Chandler controlling the game, as he finished with 29 points on just 20 shots. He wasn’t sprinting up the court like in the first half, but his speed was still too much to handle. Tennessee ran all sorts of actions to get him switched onto one of CU’s bigs, and although Battey is a great defender, he cannot go one-on-one against maybe the fastest player in the country.
After this tough loss, the Buffs will head into a four-game home stretch against Eastern Washington, Milwaukee, CSU-Bakersfield and then #8 Kansas. All eyes will be focused on the Jayhawks visiting for the first time since Askia Booker’s shot, but the Buffs will have to focus on winning all three of those earlier games.