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Colorado Basketball Week 7: Conference Play Begins

The Buffs opened up Pac-12 play with solid wins over both UCLA and USC.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It's almost as if Colorado finally heard everything the fans have been complaining about for the past several weeks. The Buffs addressed the problems that plagued them all season and began playing like the team they were billed to be. CU, despite being without Josh Scott, who did not play this week due to back spasms, delivered in both games with a strong win over UCLA and a drubbing of USC.

The UCLA Recap: The Buffs began the game very stagnant and sloppy, committing five turnovers in the first five minutes. UCLA appeared as if they were going to run away with the game once the Bruins went up 9-3 early on. However, Askia Booker came to the rescue. The senior led the Buffaloes on a 11-2 run to give them a 14-11 lead with 12:15 left in the first half. Colorado managed to counter two of the three Bruin runs before halftime. Still, the Buffs could not pull away and CU went into halftime leading 28-27. UCLA came out the second half firing and took back the lead from CU early. But, the Buffaloes fought back as a team and snatched a 37-36 lead on UCLA with 14:07 to play. Then, the Pac-12 refs decided to switch out with a group of middle school basketball refs, or at least that's what it seemed like. Thanks to some awful calls by the refs, UCLA took a 43-37 lead at the 11:33 mark. Yet, CU would not be denied, going on another run. In this run, though, something changed with the Buffaloes. With 9:43 remaining, Xavier Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound, spun away from his defender, and crammed down a nasty two handed dunk over several UCLA defenders. It was in this very moment everything clicked into place for CU. As the noise level in the Coors Event Center reached a deafening roar, a light went on. For the remainder of the game, no matter what UCLA threw at them, the Buffaloes answered it. With 2:04 remaining, Askia Booker found Jaron Hopkins for a half court alley-oop that put an unofficial end to the game. At that point the Buffs lead 58-51. Colorado ultimately won 62-56.

The USC Recap: Colorado came out of the gate with a fast start and built and early 8-2 lead within the first four minutes of play. However, the Buffs could not prevent the Trojans from closing the gap each time CU went up big. Still, the Buffs continued to answer every one of USC's runs with excellent defense and ball movement. With 6:07 to play, USC cut the Buffs lead to five as CU held a 29-24 lead. Then, the Buffaloes in a very out of character manner went on a 14-3 run to go into halftime with a 43-27 lead. The second half can be described as the reawakening of Dustin Thomas as he scored 13 of the Colorado's 43. Thomas led the charge from deep, shooting a perfect 3-3 from deep in the second half. Askia Booker, and Xavier Johnson also contributed from deep as well. The freshmen played very well in the second half too. Collier gave a strong showing in his point guard role, and Tory Miller finally looked comfortable inside with several strong takes to the hoop. With 7:54 remaining, one again Askia Booker found Jaron Hopkins for another half court alley-oop even more monstrous than the oop in the UCLA game. Following the nasty oop, the Buffs lead 65-46. CU still pushed the ball offensively until the final buzzer and won 86-65 in dominant fashion.

What Went Right: This past week for the Buffs was unquestionably their best on the season. In both games CU addressed problems that have troubled them all year. First, Jaron Hopkins and Askia Booker played excellent defense on UCLA's three point shooters, holding them to a combined 6-26. Even though the Bruins did put up 26 threes against the Buffaloes, most of them were well contested by Booker and Hopkins or even forced off balance shots. Next, the Buffs proved they can fight back when they are down in a controlled yet aggressive manner. Every time CU trailed UCLA, the Buffs would claw and scratch their way back into the game with high percentage shots on offense and lock down, air tight defense. The Buffs did not panic, rather they showed poise and control during the times they needed it most. Colorado also shot very well from the free throw line. Colorado averaged near 82% from the charity stripe between both games. Every player, even those who historically struggle from the free throw line, hit their free throws in crucial moments.

If the Buffs continue this trend, they will find themselves on the winning end of contests this year much more often. Next, Askia Booker is finally hitting his stride. He has finally become the point guard that the Buffaloes need. While being a strong scoring threat, he also moves the ball around much more, and has cut down on unnecessary turnovers. It is truly excellent to see Booker step into the role he deserves. Booker has managed to find the perfect balance to keep the offense at a fast pace, but at the same time not have it run out of control. Continuing on the offense, the Buffs for the first time this year played effectively against a zone. While it was only a USC zone, Colorado still demonstrated that they understand how to beat a zone. The Buffs moved the ball quickly against the sagging zone, and took advantage of the holes in the paint created by the rapid ball movement. Moreover, the bench proved effective in both games, by adding several buckets, dishing out assists, and grabbing important rebounds. The bench must continue to perform at this level if the Buffs want to maintain at their current level. Lastly, the Buffs rans a few decent inbounds plays to the surprise of everybody in attendance. The inbounds plays even resulted in easy lay-ups. If that isn't progress, I don't know what is.

What Went Wrong: It is very hard to find flaws in the Buffs play this weekend. However, there are two issues that do stick out. First, Colorado forced passes at the end of the UCLA game, which led to many untimely turnovers that ultimately kept the Bruins in the game until the very end. The Buffs must still work on executing under pressure if they want to pull any major upsets this year. Secondly, CU seemed to be a little weak on the boards without Josh Scott. Against USC, the Buffs gave up 16 offensive rebounds to the Trojans, which was the entire reason they managed to hang around for so long. Colorado cannot expect to win big games against any good Pac-12 team if they give their opposition that many second or even third chances.

The Buffs finally seemed to turn a major corner this week. The dunk by Xavier Johnson against UCLA appears to be the crux of this transformation. The fantasy of everything magically falling into place for Colorado, might have just come true with that powerful two handed dunk. There is a fire in the eyes of the Buffaloes, and that fire will be tested over the next few games. Let's hope the Buffs prove they have in fact turned a corner.