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Colorado Basketball Week 3: Assessing the Cupcake Games

The Buffaloes improved to 4-1 on the season with two wins this week over Air Force and Lipscomb. However, Colorado did not perform overly well in either game.

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At some points this week, the Buffs looked like an all-star team, but at other times, they looked as if they had learned nothing from their beatdown in Laramie. Colorado managed to scrape together two wins against opponents the Buffs should have completely outclassed. Still, CU improved to 4-1 this season.

Air Force Recap: The Buffs opened up against the Falcons with another poor start. The Air Force zone overwhelmed Colorado, leading to four consecutive turnovers, and ultimately five out of their first seven possessions. At the same time, Air Force was hitting their shots from beyond the arc. It looked like the Wyoming game all over again. After the first four minutes of play, the Buffs trailed 6-10. Then, Dominique Collier checked into the game and everything changed. Suddenly, the offense flowed and the defense played with actual intensity. For the next ten minutes, Collier led the Buffs on a 25-0 stampede. The freshman, in that run, put up three points, and dropped four dimes. Eventually, Air Force broke through with a three pointer with five minutes to go. But, CU went on another 9-2 mini run to close out the half. As the Buffs went into the break, they led 37-15. The second half brought the return of Askia Booker, who did not play at all in the first half due to disciplinary issues. For a good portion of the second half, it did not feel like very much of a game. Neither team seemed into it, as both teams traded baskets for the first part of the half. Then after several terrible calls from the always reliable Pac-12 refs, Josh Scott awoke. In the remaining eight minutes, Scott put up eleven points, and grabbed two boards in his late second half campaign. The Buffs finished out the game with a solid performance, and won the game 68-53.

Lipscomb Recap: Colorado finally came out strong against the Bison. Scott and Askia Booker led the team to an early 8-0 lead in the first three minutes of play. Lipscomb finally broke through at the 16:14 mark. Still, the Buffs momentum proved to be too strong. Colorado was a well oiled machine on both ends of the floor. Offensively, the Buffs moved the ball quickly and made the extra pass, which led to excellent shot selection. On defense, the Buffs forced Lipscomb to take deep, off balanced shots. Askia Booker finally broke out of his slump, scoring easily and dishing out several assists. With 3:33 left to play in the fist half, the Buffs led 44-20. CU looked to cruise into halftime with a considerable lead. However, Lipscomb decided to change their defensive tactics and switched to a zone. With no Scott and facing a new defense, Colorado struggled to maintain their lead. In the final three minutes, Lipscomb went on a 16-5 run. The Buffs went into the locker room leading 49-35, but their energy was dwindling. Coming out of halftime, Colorado allowed Lipscomb to slowly creep back into the game, due terrible shot selection, sloppy offense, and poor defense. The Bison zone appeared to befuddle the Colorado offense. The only measure of consistency was Josh Scott, who scored nearly every time he touched the ball. Still whenever Scott sat down to rest, the Buffs had no answer for the streaking Bison, who caught fire from deep. With 5:43 remaining, Colorado held onto a 67-61 lead. Scott, however, decided to put the team on his back by scoring seven of his twenty nine points to silence Lipscomb. The Buffs closed out the game by going 2-8 from the line in the last minute, giving the Bison a sliver of hope. Thankfully though, the altitude stifled Lipscomb's last second comeback, as Colorado escaped with the 84-75 win.

What Went Right: The Buffs showed solid improvement on the offensive end. For the first time this season, the Buffaloes offense actually flowed. Colorado made the extra pass, which led to improved overall shot selection. Also, the Buffs shot very well from the free throw line. In both games Colorado shot above 70% from the charity stripe. In the Lipscomb game the Buffs finally came out with a strong start, holding the Bison under 10 for the first eleven minutes of the game. In that game Askia Booker finally played to his full potential by adding 18 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds to the Buffs victory. Colorado also clearly dominated on the boards in both games. Lastly, the Buffs created significant runs early on, which provided CU a solid cushion that they needed in both games. If Colorado can continue to create these large leads early on, the Buffs will continue to win.

What Went Wrong: The Buffs struggled with three things this week: guarding the three, playing against the zone, and maintaining their large leads. First and foremost, the Buffs once again proved they cannot defend against three point shooters. Luckily in both games, neither team did enough damage from deep to beat CU. However, Lipscomb came very close. Colorado gave too much space against solid three point shooters, and struggled to switch on high screens, which led to several more threes. When the Buffs play teams that have true three point shooters, they will be utterly and completely destroyed if they do not make an adjustment soon. Secondly in both games, the Buffs offense was rendered useless against the zone. Colorado was pushed far off the three point line and could not get the ball inside to break the zone. While CU took the ball baseline, they did not recognize that in order to break a zone they must get the ball to the high post. In turn, the Buffs took low percentage deep threes, or off balanced baseline shots. Neither shot is high quality , so very few found the bottom of the net. However, thanks to Josh Scott's tenacious attack on the offensive glass, he managed to snag numerous put backs that kept CU's lead intact. Hopefully, Tad will address how to beat a zone in practice this coming week. If not, playing against a zone will become the achilles heel of the Buffaloes. Lastly, Colorado must figure out how to maintain the large leads they create. In both games, CU went on early runs that gave the Buffs significant cushion. Yet, in both games CU managed to blow twenty plus point leads. Thankfully it was against Air Force and Lipscomb. If Colorado blows such a lead against Utah, or Arizona, it will probably cost them the game. All three of these problems must be addressed in the easy non-conference schedule, otherwise it will be a long, painful, and all too familiar struggle in the Pac-12.

Player of the Week: It goes to none other than Josh Scott. While Scott had a relatively quiet night against Air Force, only putting up 13 points, and grabbing 3 boards, he stormed back Sunday having a career game against Lipscomb. Scott scored a career high 29 points, grabbed a career tying 13 rebounds, and dished a career high 5 assists. He was a unstoppable beast down low, finishing through contact. He also was near perfect from the charity stripe, going 16-18 for the week. If Scott can continue to play at this level, he will be one of the best big men in the country. Watch out Mr. Kaminsky.

Overall, the Buffs had a decent showing this week. If Tad can at least address figure out how to beat a zone, then Colorado will have a shot this season. While the Air Force win nor the Lipscomb win was impressive, Buff fans must not panic. The season is still young and CU still has a few more cupcakes and a couple more weeks to make adjustments before the real challenge of the regular season begins.