An injury riddled Colorado Buffaloes squad fell to the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe in an absolute heartbreaker on Saturday evening. The Buffs were looking to bounce back in a major way after suffering one of their worst loses in program history to Arizona on Thursday. Instead, turnovers and mistakes sent CU home from their roadtrip to the desert winless.
After multiple weeks of nothing but bad injury news, the basketball gods decided to throw a Buffs a bone heading into Saturday’s game. Colorado star forward Tristan da Silva, one of Colorado’s leading scorers and biggest shooting threats, made his return to the starting lineup after missing three games due to an ankle injury. It wasn’t all good news however, as Cody Williams and Julian Hammond were still unavailable to play in Tempe due to injuries.
After the tip-off, both teams came out of the gates slowly and sloppily. Poor shooting from both squads and two Colorado turnovers led to only 9 combined points after the first media timeout. The Buffs and Sun Devils seemingly found their footing after the break, as both teams began to hit their shots and the scoring ramped up.
About halfway through the first half, the score settled at 20 a piece. At this point, Arizona State’s game plan started to become abundantly clear. The Sun Devils opted to play the Buffs very physically and to attempt to force turnovers. This strategy from ASU’s coach Bobby Hurley and his guys was pretty clever, as Colorado has struggled with more physical teams and has had major turnover troubles all season long.
In the latter half of the first, Arizona State’s approach began to pay off in dividends. Colorado began to have serious trouble controlling possession of the basketball and the Sun Devils trounced on that opportunity. ASU forced turnover after turnover, a vast majority of which result in points. With just a few minutes left to play before halftime, four Buffaloes turnovers resulted in a 13-0 run for the Sun Devils. After 7 quick points by KJ Simpson helped minimize the damage, the Buffs went into the locker room down 44-38.
A clearly frazzled Buffaloes squad opened the second half on the wrong foot. A combination of bad shooting, missed layups and an inability to prevent fouls allowed ASU to retain their small lead until there were about 5 minutes left to play. After KJ Simpson went quiet for a big chunk of the second half, a herculean effort from J’Vonne Hadley and Tristan da Silva allowed the Buffs to pull back into the game tie it up at 66 with 4:53 left to play.
Both teams traded two buckets, after which a foul on Luke O’Brien gave ASU’s Adam Miller two free throws. Miller hit both his freebies to give the Sun Devils a two point lead with less than a minute to play. The Buffs marched down the floor in an attempt to tie things up, but KJ Simpson got stuffed at the rim by Alonzo Gaffney in heartbreaking fashion.
Colorado intentionally sent the Sun Devils to the line four times afterwards, where they made three free throws to give themselves a four point lead. KJ quickly hit a long three to keep the Buffs alive, if only by a thread. Another missed free throw by ASU gave the ball back to the Buffs down three with only 8 seconds left. Colorado needed a miracle, which ultimately didn’t materialize. Arizona State intentionally fouled KJ immediately, where ASU recovered the missed free throw to officially close it out. When things were all said and done, the Buffs fell in Tempe by a score of 76-73.
Colorado finished the game with a costly 13 turnovers and 18 fouls, which their opponents made sure to take full advantage of. The Sun Devils scored 27 points off forced turnovers, 20 of which came in the first half alone. If the Buffs would have just handled the ball a bit better, they’d probably be leaving Tempe with a win. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how things played out.
Colorado’s conference record now falls to 2-2 after Saturday’s game and they are now 11-4 on the season. The Buffs head back to Boulder without a win from their trip to Arizona, as now have to gear up a play a talented USC squad at home. Hopefully, Williams and Hammond can return to the floor soon to give the team some reinforcements. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the women take on the Sun Devils in Tempe on Sunday.