As I said all year, the Buffaloes are the most interesting team in the Pac-12. What plagues them in one game can completely disappear in the following game just a few days later. CU just did not seem to have the fire in the game against California. Yet three days later, Colorado picks up their biggest win of the season against Stanford. It is nearly a roll of the dice for what Buffaloes team will show up at this point. Maybe it can be accredited to late season fatigue. Still, inconsistency at this point in the season is just plain confusing.
The Cal Recap: Neither team led the charge to begin this game. The rims were tight, the passes were lazy, and the shot selection was subpar. But both teams began to slowly gain momentum as the half wore on. There were flashes of excellent play from the Buffs. But, every time Colorado looked to pull away, they slipped up defensively. At the intermission, CU trailed 27-28. Coming out of the break, the Buffaloes look a little tired and California took advantage by going on a 13-4 run. For the remainder of the game, CU could not recover. Each time the Buffs seemed to get within reach, Cal would take back their lead. However in the final three minutes, Colorado gave it their best shot. They locked down on defense and cut Cal's lead to 63-61. After one last stop, CU came down the floor with a chance to tie the game. They found Josh Scott on the baseline for an open jumper, the shot rattled out. It just wasn't the Buffs' night. CU went on to lose 61-68.
The Stanford Recap: CU took quick advantage of Stanford's poor shooting at the beginning of the game, to generate the lead they would need. The Buffs went up 12-4 in the early minutes of the game and spent the remainder of the half fending off the Cardinal from coming back. If Colorado had been able to shut down Stefan Nastic, it would have been a blowout, but they weren't able to. So the Buffaloes only led 29-23 at the half. Following the short reprieve and good luck walk around the stadium, the second half began. CU, just like in the first, built on their lead early. However, Stefan Nastic tore it to pieces, and Stanford managed to tie the game up at 40 all, with 13:07 left. For the rest of the half both teams went back and forth, until Xavier Talton stepped with the two biggest plays of the game. With seven minutes remaining, XT splashed a deep three to put CU up 50-47. Then, a few minutes later, the little man skied over every one to grab a huge offensive rebound and found Askia Booker for a three, to extend Colorado's lead and stop the Cardinal run. Then, after almost literally throwing the game away in the final minute, the Buffs eked out an impressive 64-58 win.
What Went Wrong: Besides Colorado's inability to recognize and cover their opponent's three point shooters, the Buffs struggled with holding onto the ball, in both games. Against Cal, the Buffaloes kept coughing up the rock due to their rushed offense and extra, unneeded efforts dribbling. Several times on offense, CU would hurry the ball up the court and either pass it out of bounds or dribble into a Cal defender. The Buffs also forced may shots early in the possession, which gave the ball back right back to the Golden Bears. While those plays don't show up in the turnover column, they have the same basic effect. In the Stanford game, the Buffs only had eight turnovers, but they all came at crucial times. The most glaring example was the unnecessary inbounds pass turnover by Xavier Johnson in the final minute of the game. Thankfully, his charge immediately following negated the error. The Buffs struggled with their interior defense as well. The big men on both Cal and Stanford played very well against the Buffs, especially Stefan Nastic. The Cardinal center dropped 24 points, which was only two points shy of matching his career high. The Buffs normally have a very strong presence in the paint with Gordon and Scott clogging the middle. But, this week the interior defense was lacking. Lastly, CU didn't shoot too well in either game. They left too many points at the charity stripe and forced up too many unnecessary shots. If Stanford had not shot so poorly to begin the game, the Buffs would most likely be looking at going 0-2 on the week.
What Went Right: Welcome back Xavier Johnson, we missed you. XJ managed to put together his first XJ-esque game against Stanford since injuring his ankle against Utah last month. Against the Tree, (I really do hate that their mascot is just a singular tree) Johnson recorded his first double double of the season with 10 points and a whopping 13 rebounds. He also took a key charge in the final minute, which no doubt saved the game. Speaking of charges, the Buffs also won the battle of the hustle plays. They took multiple charges in both games. The more CU works on outdoing their opponent in the "little things", the more they will find those W's in close games. Next, Colorado did an excellent job of using their entire bench. Every player that came into the game made a positive impact and gave the starters much needed rest. The best player off the bench was no doubt Dustin Thomas. He has taken on the role of 6th man full force. Thomas provides a solid scoring option and excellent defensive pressure when he comes onto the floor. Thomas has found confidence in his shooting and driving ability once again, and it is only a matter of time before the shots that rattle out now, drop through the rim with ease. On defense, DT always shuts his man down as well. Thomas may be the best and most versatile defender for the Buffaloes. Lastly, it seems CU has put together a decent press. It forced Cal to turn the ball over a few times, and it also slowed down the Stanford offense. If CU can improve their full court press, they will take their defense play to the next level, that is needed very much so right now.
Right now, the Buffs are 12-12 with six games remaining in the season. Colorado, technically, can still get to 20 wins on the season. Yes, those odds are very very slim, but it's still possible. CU has a chance to possibly turn their season around in the next few weeks. If they are able to gleam momentum from the win against Stanford and take it on the road to Oregon, they might be able to build up enough confidence to take down the giant that is Arizona at home. Again, just like 20 wins this season, the odds of that happening is pretty narrow. But, postseason possibilities are still very much alive for the Buffaloes. It just depends on what they do with their momentum from their win against Stanford.