Rebounding and defense allowed the Buffs to leave Brooklyn with a key win. Colorado always -- always -- starts out slow in neutral site games, but Tuesday was different. A day after losing to Notre Dame 89-83 because of a terrible first half, the Buffs got off to a great start against the 22nd-ranked Texas Longhorns and never looked back. They leave Brooklyn with an impressive 68-54 win over a strong Texas team.
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In the first 20 minutes, the Buffs and Longhorns had nearly identical shooting percentages — 36% and 37%, respectively — but the Buffs battled on the boards en route to taking a 33-24 halftime lead. Colorado, undersized but ferocious, outrebounded Texas 27 to 16 and had 13 offensive rebounds (!) in the first half to buoy lackluster shooting. That rebounding gap narrowed the rest of the way as Colorado improved on offense, but the Buffs still outrebounded them 43 to 32.
Leading the rebounding battle was George King, who may or may not have turned into Andre Roberson on the boards. At halftime alone, he had 10 rebounds (4 offensive) to go along with 7 points that came off second chance buckets and pull up jumpers. He finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds after posting 17 and 13 yesterday. King still can’t really dribble, pass or play much defense (he’s improving there), but his shooting and rebounding make him a vital piece of this Colorado team.
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This wasn’t the best offensive game for the Buffs, but it wasn’t the worst either. They shot just 36% in the half, but a strong second half saw that percentage rise to 44% for the game, not bad if you can play defense and rebound like that.
The offensive star of the game was Derrick White, the stat-filling senior transfer. After contributing in various ways as the de facto point guard — his role until Dom Collier returns — White came up huge late in the second half.
With only five minutes to go, Texas cut Colorado’s lead from 12 to 3 as they played physical offense and ran Shaka Smart’s famed press defense to perfection. In need of stability, CU went to White and he did not disappoint. When they needed a bucket the most, White hit a crucial step back jumper to give Colorado some breathing room. Another three minutes later was the dagger that sealed their win.
White finished the game with 16 points on 7-10 shooting, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals. If he plays anywhere close to that all season, he can carry this Colorado team in tight contests like these.
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On the topic of White, Colorado will have to rely upon him to shore up Colorado’s guard rotation, which is looking suspect without Collier. Josh Fortune starts alongside White, but when he tries to do anything besides shoot or pass, he’s a forcing a high number of turnovers. His defense is struggling as well.
Backing them up is Thomas Akyazili. The Belgian sophomore had a strong game today — solid defense and a few crazy layups inspired an early run — but his shooting is a serious problem for the offense. Texas knew he can’t shoot, so Akyazili’s defender played off him, packed the paint and tried doubling whoever had the ball. If he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, Colorado will need be forced to play White, the only Buff capable in tight spacing. This may be a serious problem moving forward.
Instead of Akyazili, the Buffs will sometimes choose Bryce Peters as the secondary guard. Peters is a ridiculous athlete and drips potential, but his passing, ball security and perimeter defense are all a work progress. That limits him to playing off the ball instead of at point guard, meaning he can’t be out there without Akyazili or White ... and he shouldn’t be out there with Akyazili.
Basically, if Colorado wants to avoid turnovers, shooting struggles and poor offense therefore, they may need White to play heavy minutes until Collier can ease the pressure. Hopefully White can handle the workload that Colorado desperately needs.
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All the while, the Pac-12 looks like trash. Oregon, the overwhelming favorite for the conference, lost yesterday to a terrible Georgetown team and almost again to a mediocre Tennessee team. Arizona looks good, but they have serious depth and eligibility concerns. Cal has struggled early on and lost to San Diego State — not a bad loss, but it wasn’t even close. UCLA has looked incredible on offense, but their boom-or-bust potential is still relevant. The middle class of the conference, meanwhile, has spent time getting blown out by Nevada, losing to Yale, losing to Loyola (Il.), etc. It’s not good.
In short, this conference may experience a bit of a down year, similar to 2011-12. If that’s the case, Colorado will need to take care of their non-conference games and win a bunch in the Pac-12 to get into the Tournament.
Today offered proff that they shouldn’t need a 2012-like Pac-12 run to get in. With defense and rebounding like this and Derrick White leading the offense, these Buffs should win lots of games, no matter how pretty.