Colorado came into Saturday’s meeting with BYU on the heels of an upset victory of No. 13 Xavier. They showed their mettle at home with that win and had the chance to show off what they can do on the road against the Cougars. The Buffs came to play, but were ultimately doomed by perimeter defense, rebounding and foul trouble.
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The first half was one that cycled through periods of both offensive excellence and ineptitude. The offense on both sides would show up for a few minutes, make a bunch of crazy shots in little time and then go away for the next few minutes.
Colorado typically starts road games slow. Their defense usually looks lethargic early on and the offense has to adjust to the new court before they can get going. This game was no different.
In the first few minutes of this game in Provo, Utah, the Buffs struggled to defend both the perimeter and the rim. BYU’s Nick Emery — he of the long-sleeves and sucker punches — was simply too much for the Colorado defense. Like Notre Dame’s Matt Ferrell, Emery was able to drive past anyone in front of him and penetrate for easy shots for teammates and himself. When the defense would sag off, Emery, a 36% three-pointer shooter on the season, would pull up and hit the deep shot. Guards like him will continually gives the Buffs fits until Dom Collier comes back from his injury.
After ten minutes or so, Colorado’s offense picked up. Derrick White played heavenly once again. The patron saint of shot creation worked wonders against the Latter Day Saints, as White could do whatever He wanted on that end of the floor. White carried the Buffs offensively in the first half, as He had 16 points on an insanely efficient 6-7 shooting performance.
By the power of White, CU hung on with BYU to go into halftime down just 40-38. BYU shot the lights out in the first half, but considering they came into the game shooting 29% from deep (332nd in the nation), their shooting seemed unsustainable. Colorado seemed to be in great position to get a tough road win, but ‘twas not to be.
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The second half began with a scoring run from BYU similar to their opening run in the first half, but instead of relying on impossible jump shots, they crashed the offensive glass and scored a litany of second chance buckets. Colorado rarely struggles on the glass, but there they were. George King had a terrific rebounding game (he had 12), but he and Xavier Johnson struggled to box out Yoeli Childs and Eric Mika. BYU ended up winning the rebounding game 46-31 and it proved to be crucial.
At the tail end of this scoring run, Derrick White was whistled for his fourth foul on a phantom call that was immediately questioned by the players, coaches, commentators, fans, everyone on Twitter, even my dog. With only one more foul to give before being disqualified, Tad Boyle was forced to bench the transfer senior. White would only score five points in the half, but he still finished with 21 in the game.
Down by nine at the time, this looked like it would be the end for the Buffs. Then Xavier Johnson stepped up. This is from the first half but still:
In the second half, XJ carried the offense like White had earlier. After White left, Johnson went on an 8-0 run by himself to bring the Buffs within one point. Johnson eventually had to go to the bench to rest up — he finished with 17 points — but not until the Buffs had taken the lead and changed the feeling of the game.
From there on out, the defense on both sides tightened up and the game turned into a grind-it-out effort. In this setting, George King thrived for the Buffs. King will always be a hot-and-cold offensive player, but he’s turned himself into an invaluable player for Colorado with consistent defense and vast improvements in rebounding. In the second half of this game, especially late, he was everywhere for the Buffs.
Buoyed by the play of King and tenacious defense all around, Colorado could only fight so long until tired legs and foul trouble doomed them. As BYU drew foul after foul (some calls better than others), Colorado couldn’t buy a shot, and with a team this old, you wouldn’t think that would be a problem.* This proved to be the difference in the game as BYU pulled away with the 79-71 win.
*That was an alcohol joke. I’m so tired.
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Colorado is now 7-3 and in need of quality play come Pac-12 play. Until then, they play three should-be victories. Next up for the Buffs is Fort Hays State, which will be at home this coming Saturday, December 17.