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Colorado Basketball Week 9: The Struggle in the Desert

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The Buffs fall to 2-3 in the Pac-12 after dropping games against Arizona and Arizona State this past week.

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Last week was another less than ideal one for the Buffaloes. Without Xavier Johnson, due to his ankle sprain, and Josh Scott from back spasms, Colorado took to the desert to face off against a hungry Arizona team, and the subpar Arizona State Sun Devils. Things didn't go as planned for the Buffs. CU dropped both games, each one winnable (one much more than the other). Still, Colorado fans do not need to hit the panic button yet, but we sure are getting close.

The Arizona Recap: The Buffaloes began this game looking to pull off a major upset. Askia Booker led the charge to put CU up early. With 14:35, the Buffs went up 9-4, and the Arizona fans started to sweat. However once Ski picked up a foul and sat down, the Wildcats made their first large run. Arizona went on a 12-0 run, to go up 17-12 with 9:58 left in the half. Still, the Buffaloes fought their way back and looked to take the lead, down only  23-22 with 4:52 to play. But, a costly turnover sparked another 12-3 Arizona run to put them up 35-25 at halftime. Colorado came out strong once again in the second half. They cut the Arizona lead to only five early on. Yet, the Wildcats almost effortlessly pulled away. Still, Booker and the Buffaloes wouldn't quit. With 13:30 to play Ski hit two important free throws, and CU only trailed 44-38. However, Arizona silenced the Buffs efforts again with three consecutive three pointers. For the rest of the game after that, each time Colorado went on a small run, Arizona always would have an answer. When all was said and done the Buffaloes lost 68-54.

The Arizona State Recap: Both teams started off this game very sluggish. Nobody could manage to pull away from the other. It seemed the Buffs were going to spark a small run, when Jaron Hopkins found Wesley Gordon underneath the basket for a two handed flush to put CU up 12-10 with 13:06 left in the half. However, the Buffs couldn't mount anything from that momentum. Trailing 22-19 with 5:41 in the half, Askia Booker managed to lead Colorado on a 9-2 run to close out the half, well, almost. The Buffs gave up five points in the final 28 seconds of the half thanks to a missed defensive assignment and a Ski turnover. So instead of leading, CU trailed 29-28 at halftime. In the second half both teams came out strong, but once again neither team seemed to be able to gain an advantage on the other. With 11:10 remaining, it was all tied up at 47 a piece. Then, the turnovers, and bad defense that plagued Colorado all game long finally caught up with them. With about seven minutes remaining in the game, the Buffs seemed to draw a blank when it came to perimeter defense. Arizona State gladly exploited that, hitting five crucial three pointers down the stretch. After the last of the five ASU three pointer's, CU trailed 60-65 with 3:58 to play. With the defense spread out, Arizona State made quick work on the inside to put the game away. With 1:14 remaining the Buffs trailed 70-60, and went into desperation mode. Colorado gave it their best shot at a comeback, hitting four consecutive threes in the final minute of play. But ASU made their free throws, and the Buffs lost 78-72.

What Went Right: First are foremost, Jaron Hopkins continued to prove himself to be a leader of this Buffaloes team with his quality performances against Arizona and ASU. With no Scott or XJ, Colorado's only scoring threat was Booker. However Hopkins recently found his confidence at the guard position, and now has begun to become a threat as a slasher from the wing. As soon as Hopkins realizes that he can simply dunk over whoever gets in his way and improves his ability to finish at the rim, he will become one of the main scoring options for the Buffaloes. Next, Colorado appears to be improving their ball movement on offense. When the Buffs swung the ball swiftly and effectively against ASU and Arizona, Colorado was able to score easily. If CU can improve their ball movement even more so, and continue to get more quality looks during games, the Buffs will stay competitive this year and might actually be able to get that ever elusive road win. Continuing on offense improvements, Colorado did an excellent job coming out fast against Arizona. There was a sense of nervousness for many Wildcat fans, when the Buffs went up early. If they can learn to maintain that momentum, they might be able to pull off a couple upsets later in the season. Lastly, Ski Booker continued his season to remember this week. He single handedly kept the Buffs in the game against Arizona, scoring 30 points. (Oddly enough, Jay Bilas pointed out Askia Booker has the potential to score 30 points in big games such as against Arizona. So, maybe Bilas has psychic powers or something.) Versus ASU, Booker gave a very strong contribution as well. While he did create four of CU's 13 turnovers, he's still Colorado's leader and best threat offensively. Perfecting the pull-up shot of the dribble has made Booker an elite player in the Pac-12. Booker must continue to perform at this current level of play, if the Buffaloes want to stay competitive this season.

A side note: The best moment for the Buffaloes this weekend had to be the epic, one handed, Odell Beckham Jr-esque catch by Darragh O'Neill in the East-West Shrine game. If you haven't see the catch, check it out:

What Went Wrong: To avoid sounding like a broken record, I will address CU's biggest problems quickly and just once. The Buffs struggled to guard three point shooters in both games this week, they turned the ball over too much, and struggled to rebound as well. These issues have hurt the Buffaloes all season and will most likely continue to, unless something changes drastically. Furthermore, as long as Colorado cannot correct these issues, the Buffs will just be a little above average. To compound these residual problems, new ones arose this week as well. Against, both teams Colorado struggled to finish at the rim. While their ball quality ball movement gave them several open looks near the basket, they were not able to convert on many of those attempts. The biggest culprit of this was Jaron Hopkins. He had multiple misses right at the rim. For Hopkins, he just has to understand that he can out jump almost everybody in college basketball, and instead of softly laying up the ball, he should just dunk it. Hopefully as he matures, he'll figure that out. Next, the Buffs defense seemed to be off this week as a whole. Besides struggling to defend the three, Colorado did not seem to have much of an interior defense. Both the Wildcats and the Sun Devils easily worked their way into the paint and were able to score easy buckets right at the rim. If CU struggled with their interior defense this week because Scott and Johnson were not in the line up, that is somewhat understandable. But, if the Buffs continue to play poor defense in the paint once XJ and Scott return, this could wind up being a very long season. Last but not least, Colorado had problems with containing and responding to scoring runs by Arizona as well as ASU. Rather than locking down defensively and taking high percentage shots, the Buffs pushed the ball and took their first, somewhat open shot, which actually worked counterproductive to stopping the runs.

Overall, this was week most Buff fans would like to forget and move on from. Still, Colorado shouldn't panic. For as many areas CU struggled with this week, they had just as many of new growth. Hopkins is progressing into an excellent leader, the Buffs are improving their ball movement, and Brett Brady is getting more court time. (Okay, maybe the last one isn't that crucial.) Nevertheless, Colorado simply has to use these losses as fuel to work harder, learn as much as they can from each game, and move on to their next opponents with intensity. The Buffs cannot afford to dwell on any one loss this season.