Playing with poise and confidence, the Buffaloes put together another tantalizing ‘what could have been’ display on Thursday night.
A squeaky clean and efficient effort on both ends of the court helped Colorado run their winning streak against Stanford up to an impressive 8 games.
“I think that was as good a two halves as we’ve put together back to back offensively all year,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “I thought that we really shared the ball well tonight and the togetherness on offense was big time.”
Colorado’s sparkling shooting and exquisite ball movement proved more than the Cardinal could cope with. The Buffs finished with a season-high 25 assists and committed a season-low 6 turnovers all while shooting 57% from the field and 48% from deep.
By most metrics it was their best offensive performance of the season.
“I think it’s contagious, the passing becomes contagious just like selfishness can become contagious,” said Boyle. “It’s amazing how basketball is a game of runs and momentum but I think the contagiousness of both good things, sharing the ball, and also selfishness is sometimes overlooked.”
Colorado’s offense certainly was contagious, as six Buffs scored in double digits and guard Derrick White finished with 9 points to go with a game-high 8 assists.
“We’ve been talking all week about sharing the ball and getting the best shot,” said White. “When we’re moving the ball like that and no one has an agenda and no one is hunting their shots, we’re hard to guard and we’re getting easy looks. It’s something we need to continue to do.”
In fact, the Buffs did more than talk about sharing the ball. They actively practiced it in a drill cooked up by the newest CU assistant coach, Bill Grier. The Buffaloes spent time scrimmaging under the rule that no basket could count unless it came directly off of an assist.
"The assist game was big for us tonight. It got our mindset going that our players took from practice to the game," said Boyle. "Sometimes when those lights go on guys can get selfish and hunt for shots but tonight for the most part we didn't do that."
At first, the easy looks that the Buffs were earning from spreading the ball around weren’t falling. Colorado began the game 3-9 from deep and nearly all of those shots were open, in-rhythm attempts. Stanford was able to stay within arm's length by answering each Colorado mini-run with one of their own.
Then, with 4:30 remaining in the first half, the Buffs began to push the pedal down. They proceeded to rattle off three straight makes from beyond the arc, two of which were produced by Deleon Brown and Lucas Siewert, which served to push a slim two-point lead out to six.
They didn’t look back from there, shooting a sizzling 59% from the field in the second frame and outscoring Stanford 60-43 from that point on.
“That was the best start to a second half that we’ve had all year,” said Boyle. “Our players came out and played great, forcing them into a timeout two minutes into the second half. If I knew the answer to why we started the second half so well I’d bottle it up and save it.”
Defensively, the Buffs were effective enough at containing Stanford’s battering ram Reid Travis and limiting breakdowns in the second half to hold off any potential Cardinal charge.
“We had a good game plan for Travis,” said George King. “We know he likes to go right and they like to clear the right side of the court for him so we sit on his right hand and force him into the help on the left side of the court. We knew that if we were able to slow him down that our chance of winning the game was that much greater.”
The Buffs put together what has to be considered one of their top three all-around performances of this campaign. But, as has been the case since the beginning of February, the win comes with a bittersweet, too-little-too-late feeling.
Had Colorado found this form in January they’d likely be battling for national seeding. As it stands, this team has at least done enough to prove that they still have the potential to put up unexpected results in Las Vegas.
“We still have some improvements to make defensively and rebounding the ball,” said Boyle. “But I think this team showed that when we play together, because we don’t have one guy that can carry this squad, and we share it offensively and play with energy and passion defensively this team can be as good as they want to be and beat any team in this league. We’ve also shown that when we don’t, we’re very average.”
-The win marked Tad Boyle’s 100th at the Coors Events Center and his 147th overall, which ties him with Forrest B. ‘Frosty’ Cox for third all-time at CU.
-Xavier Johnson finished 7-13 from the field with 15 points and one three-pointer. That three put him on a list with rare company. He joins Donnie Boyce and Richard Roby as the only players in Colorado history with at least 125 threes and 600 rebounds.
-Colorado has now hit the 80-point mark in 9 of their last 14 games, and scored at least 90 points for just the second time this season, the first coming against Seattle in November.