If you asked a Buff fan what he or she thought of this year's team on Thursday, you would probably have a completely different answer than if you asked that same fan Saturday night. Colorado proved once again they are a very streaky team. CU was able to fix nearly all the problems that plagued them against Washington in a little more than three days for the Washington State game. While it reveals this team's ability to quickly learn from their mistakes, it also unveils the team the the Buffaloes had the potential to be this season. Still it's a step in the right direction.
The Washington Recap: Colorado delivered a lackluster performance against Washington on Thursday, leaving every fan feeling empty inside. There's absolutely no way to deny it. The Buffs opened up the game lazy and careless. When I mean lazy, their initial effort made a second semester senior's effort look inspirational. But lucky for the Buffs, Washington came out just as sluggish. Those in attendance got to witness a "Who Can Screw Over Their Team More" Battle. Somehow, Washington won that won behind their plethora of turnovers. At halftime, Colorado led 24-19, oh so exciting. Then, the second half was completely flipped with all offense and no defense. Both teams had scoring outbursts nobody expected. The guard play from Washington was just too much for the Buffaloes. Andrew Andrews (yes that's his real name) and Nigel Willams-Goss overwhelmed Colorado's guards. In the final seconds Colorado had the chance to win the game, but errant turnover prevented CU from even getting a shot off. Washington took advantage of their lucky opportunity, as Andrew Andrews hit a shot as time expired to secure the win for the Huskies, 52-50. Ugh, that game hurt.
The Washington State Recap: Coming into this game, not many people expected much from the Buffs, especially with Askia Booker not starting again due to his tardiness to a team meeting. Boy did they prove everybody wrong. Colorado obliterated the Cougars with prolific scoring performance for the ages. CU came charging out of the gate, hitting their first five shots. However as the Buffs always do, they let WSU back into the game thanks to some ugly shot selection. Then with 10:00 to play in the half, the awkward crew of Collier, Stalzer, Thomas, Gordon decided enough was enough, and sparked a 22-11 run for the Buffs to close out the half. The halftime break did not slow the Buffaloes down one bit. The Buffs continued to push the ball on offense and outran the Cougars. It also helped that Booker decided to break out in the second half and score 15 of his 21 total points. About halfway through the second half, the altitude along with the fast paced CU offense simply exhausted Washington State. Once Brett Brady, Geoffrey Bates (pronounced Jeffery, who knows why his parents just didn't use that spelling) and Josh Repine checked into the game with about three minutes to go, it was all over. The Buffs ultimately won 90-58.
What Went Wrong: I thought I would switch it up a bit this week and give the bad news first, so I can end the article on some positive notes. The Buffs struggles this week were all against Washington. Colorado's biggest problem was no doubt their lackadaisical start against the Huskies. Their minimum effort set the tone for the whole game. Then to complicate matters even more, Askia Booker chose to pick up two early fouls and had to sit for a good portion of the first half. Once Booker's butt hit the bench, Colorado hit the off switch on their offense (I guess that's why they call it off-ense, I'm sorry, I'll see myself out). The Buffaloes cannot simply rely on Booker to lead their offense, and then hope that the other team doesn't score while he's not playing. Next, CU needs to work on taking high quality looks when they have the ball. Despite being a shot clock, there is still 35 seconds and Colorado should be able to find at least a decent look. Running down the floor and taking the first shot they can possibly find, will only have adverse effects for the Buffs. It simply tires the Buffs out and gives their opponents easy fast break layups. On defense, Colorado has to work on protecting the paint on drives and help side defense. The Washington guards made quick work of the Buffs off the dribble, and when CU managed to stop the drive, they left open the big men for easy thunder-dunks. Yes the Buffs might be undersized, but that's no excuse to at least get to help side and be an obstacle for the opposition. Lastly, Colorado needs to work on taking care of the ball. 12 turnovers are too many, unless they're trying to lose the game. There were many unforced turnovers that could have been the difference in the game. Now the final turnover, that's an excusable one. Jaron made a strong drive to the basket and simply lost it. He's still young and the only way to learn how to execute in those situations is through experience. So don't put the loss on Hopkins, he's the last guy to blame.
What Went Right: Wesley Gordon. In the words of LeBron James, "It's about...time." The beast has awoken, and is here to claim what is rightfully his. Wes posted consecutive double-doubles against Washington and Washington State, and over the course of those two games collected 31 rebounds. Gordon has stepped up tremendously since Scott went down with back spasms. His confidence in the post is growing at an exponential rate, and his defense is excellent as well. Even though he is only 6' 9", Gordon remains seated, moves his feet quickly, and always boxes his man out on defense. His hustle is nearly unmatched on the team. When Gordon plays well, so do the rest of the Buffaloes. Welcome to the party Mr. Gordon, we have been waiting for you. The other man on this team that's matched Gordon's new found intensity is none other than Jaron Hopkins. It can now be said with 95% confidence (for those of you who love statistics) that Hopkins can be counted on each and every game for here on out. He delivered a homecoming performance against Washington, scoring 11, grabbing five rebounds, and adding a highlight worthy block to keep the Buffs in the game on Thursday. Then against WSU, he continued to lead the team adding 13 points, six rebounds, and four dimes to boot. With Xavier Johnson out because due to injury and now team disciplinary measures, Hopkins has taken ahold of his leadership role with full force. It's great to see such promise for the future with Hopkins. From a team standpoint, Colorado did an exceptional job of spreading the wealth around against Washington State. The Buffs totaled 25 assists against the Cougars, the second highest assist mark ever in the Tad Era. The impressive redistribution of the ball, led to solid scoring all around. Six players scored in double digits for the Buffaloes in the Washington State game. Now this game was probably the best shooting exhibition for Colorado this season, which is why the assist total was to so high. But if CU can continue to move the ball as they did this game, they'll find themselves blowing teams out much more often, and winning a lot more games. Also, it was wonderful to see Dustin Thomas, Dominique Collier, and Tory Miller step up this week. Thomas is gaining confidence with every game, and the two freshman are filling their roles off the bench very nicely as well. Lastly, the Buffs finally seemed to have figured out how to beat a zone! Against Washington State they worked to the middle of the zone, then ran cutters to the basket. They also, discovered they could screen zones, as they would bring the ball to one wing, set a screen on the far defender, and throw a lob pass to the man on the opposite wing, which resulted in wide open three pointers. It's truly exciting to see progress from the Buffaloes.
Colorado hopefully has begun to turn things around starting with their throttling of Washington State. They seemed angry and unhappy for the first time this year with their last second loss to Washington. The Buffs let the loss simmer on the back burners until the pot boiled over and they made the decision that it was finally time to clean it up. Their performance against WSU was a glimpse into how this year could have gone had they brought this intensity earlier. Is it a little disappointing to think about that, yes, but what matters is they're playing good now. Colorado has to keep their heads down, and continue to fight each game. Currently, the Buffs are playing for a bid into the NIT or maybe the NCAA Tournament if they get truly lucky and go on a run. Every game from here on out is CU's Super Bowl, and by the looks of it, they know it. Let's hope this intensity stays with them for the remainder of the season.