Buffs Dial Up Defense, Tame Cougars

The Buffaloes earned a measure of payback against Washington State, avenging an overtime loss in Pullman by defeating the Cougars 81-49.

The Buffs kept their recent run of form rolling on Sunday night, having now won 5 of their last 6 games, by playing the kind of defensive ball that’s come to be expected from Tad Boyle teams.

“I think that was as good of an all-around performance as we’ve had all year,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “I thought our guys defended and rebounded and we turned them over 24 times. Overall I thought it was a great team effort.”

The tone was set on the game’s first possession, as a swarming Colorado defense stymied the Cougars and forced a last-second heave that came up well short resulting in a shot clock violation. At the 10:00 mark of the first frame the Buffs had already claimed 5 steals and forced 8 WSU turnovers en route to limiting the Cougars to just 24 points at the break.

By the time the rout was over, CU had forced a season-high 24 turnovers, held Washington State to just 38% shooting from the field and outrebounded the Cougars by 13.

“That was probably as good as we’ve been since Oregon,” said Derrick White. “We committed to the defensive end. We talked about it a lot early but we didn’t really commit to it. These last few games, starting with Oregon, we committed to the defensive end and that’s the reason we’re on this run right now.”

At the forefront of this defensive renaissance has been the play of Colorado’s guards, particularly that of Derrick White and Dom Collier.

Boyle has been pleasantly surprised by how White’s defense has translated to Pac-12 play and by how much he’s improved on that end since November.

“I think early this season he got caught for some reaching and for some ticky-tack fouls and he’s gotten away from that,” said Boyle. “He just can’t pick up those early because that keeps his aggressiveness in check. When he’s aggressive he’s really good, and he was aggressive tonight offensively and defensively." 

For his part, since returning from an early-season foot injury Collier has become a different, and more complete, defender.

“I think he’s moving his feet better and he’s gotten stronger,” said Boyle. “Again in years past he’s had some of the same issues that Derrick has had, especially last year in terms of reaching. He would get some really quick fouls and end up on the bench in foul trouble in the first half. His body’s gotten stronger and he’s keeping the ball in front of him better. Dom is becoming a very capable defender in this league. We put him on Callison tonight and he did a much better job than our team did up at Pullman.”

As has been the case throughout this season CU was paced offensively by White, who finished shooting 82% from the field with 23 points. The Buffs also capably turned their defense into offense, capitalizing on Washington State’s miscues and earning 34 points off of those Cougar turnovers.

The Buffs have certainly hit their stride, and while the uptick has come at the right time of year it remains to be seen whether or not they can do enough through the Pac-12 Tournament to overcome the damage done by their brutal start to conference play and earn a postseason bid.

At the least, their current run can serve to set them up for a shot at success in Las Vegas.

“We’ve got five league games left so we can’t just assume that this is gonna continue. We’ve got to focus on Oregon State and what it’s gonna take to beat them,” said Boyle. “You have to understand that our 0-7 start came with four games that we were ahead in, we had scored more points than our opponent in 4 of those 7 games with a minute to go, and we couldn’t finish it out, we couldn’t get the stops when we needed to get the stops. We’re not that far off. The records and the standings look like we’re buried, and we were 0-7 that’s the bottom line, but we weren’t that far away from being a 4-3 team.”

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