This weekend’s blizzard will be warmly welcomed by a Colorado Buffaloes team that is just happy to be home.
It’s been turbulent for the Buffs as a storm of injuries and poor luck have sunk them in three straight road losses. It’s never easy winning on the road, but the results are troubling — a 47-point blowout to Arizona, a close loss to a middling Arizona State, and then a collapse against the 6-10 Cal Bears.
This three-game stretch comes off the heels of a less-than-impressive home sweep of Washington and Washington State. The Buffs started picking up injuries then and it exposed their lack of depth. Colorado nearly lost to the Cougars because they don’t have a backup big man when Eddie Lampkin Jr. got into foul trouble. The offense was stagnant against the Huskies, as both Tristan da Silva and Cody Williams were out.
Da Silva and Williams were out against Arizona, then Julian Hammond picked up an injury after 15 minutes of game time. It’s always tough to win in Tucson, especially when you’re relying on Javon Ruffin, Bangot Dak and Harrison Carrington — no disrespect to any of them, but Ruffin is just coming back from a serious injury, Dak was projected to redshirt this season, and Carrington is a walk-on. This loss can be excused, even if the 47-point difference shows that the team gave up when things went badly.
The ASU game is frustrating. The Sun Devils didn’t even shoot that well, but they played a physical game, caused turnovers and were aggressive in transition. Maybe there was some fatigue on the Colorado side, given that KJ Simpson played all 40 minutes, J’Vonne Hadley played 37 and da Silva played 36 in his return from a sprained ankle. That’s part of playing short-handed — Simpson didn’t have his backup, Ruffin looked rough in his few minutes, and Boyle didn’t trust anyone else. Still, this was a winnable game on the road, and those are precious in the Pac-12 standings and NCAA Tournament resumes.
Now for the Cal game. Thank goodness for conference realignment because the Haas Pavilion brings out the worst in the Buffs every single year. The Bears went 3-29 last year and beat us in Berkely. They went 9-20 in 2021, yet beat up a Buffs team that finished #8 nationally on KenPom. And in 2020, Matt Bradley got hot and the Buffs collapsed with a five-game losing streak to end the season. It’s not a happy place for us.
Colorado had their starting lineup back with Williams back in the fold. Everything looked good as the Buffs built a 19-point second half lead. Lampkin had a superb game and ate up Fardaws Aimaq. Da Silva was back to his efficient self and Williams made his usual winning plays. (Da Silva could have made go-ahead threes against Cal and Florida State, but left both short.) The issue was that the Buffs went on a long scoring drought just when Cal couldn’t miss a shot. Jaylon Tyson scored 23 points in the second half, as the Buffs couldn’t stop the pull-up three or the drive.
This has been a problem this season and in the years before. Far too often Colorado is vulnerable to collapses or back-breaking runs because their offense relies on getting stops and turning rebounds into easy offense. If the defense is out of sync and the opposing team hits some shots, the offense gets bogged down and falls into cold spells. Maybe that’s tied to the injury and fatigue and this team just needs to get back into a rhythm. Maybe there are larger issues here — not landing another veteran transfer is the big one — but it will take some time to parse out as the season goes on.
For now, the Buffs need to bounce against the USC Trojans, who sit at 8-8 due to injuries, inconsistent defense and poor coaching. If the Buffs can’t manage this win, the alarm bells will begin ringing.