After knocking off Arizona State in Tempe, the Buffs dropped the second leg of the road trip with a 78-68 loss to #8 Arizona. It’s been up-and-down year, but it’s to hard a competitive loss against an elite opponent.
If there’s anything positive to take away from this game, it seems that Tad Boyle may have secured his frontcourt. Tristan da Silva is playing well on the road now, scoring 18 tonight and 23 against ASU (ignore the stinker against Utah). Luke O’Brien has added some verve to the starting lineup in place of J’Vonne Hadley, and though he fouled out, he offers a bit more shooting and rebounding. Lawson Lovering definitely lost his matchup against Oumar Ballo (18 points, 16 rebounds) but he fought hard and got better as the game went on.
The backcourt was not as good, even if Javon Ruffin had a good game off the bench and Nique Clifford was solid. The problem was (1) KJ Simpson has way too much on his shoulders and he’s struggling with efficiency as a result, and (2) Julian Hammond III and the veteran bench guards were completely overmatched, as JH3 somehow had a plus-minus of -28 and the Ivy Leaguers were -12. It might be a bit harsh to say, but as we’ve seen earlier this season, you simply cannot win tough games on the road without better guard play.
Even if the Buffs lost by 10, this was an encouraging performance for them. If they were just a bit more efficient shooting the ball, especially from outside, they had a real chance at the win. Alas, this team struggles to finish those looks and the bench is not really playing at a Pac-12 level. That should improve next season.
The Buffs will finish the season with three home games against USC, UCLA and Utah, all of whom are quality opponents. CU are projected as favorites against the Trojans (Feb. 23) and should have a fighting chance against #4 UCLA (Feb. 26), before being favored against Utah (March 4). The Buffs need at least two of those wins, maybe all three, and another win in the Pac-12 Tournament to sniff the NIT.