Brooks: No Loss Good, But Buffs Learn From Recent ‘L’s
BOULDER – It’s impossible to find a good loss, but a bad loss . . . not so much. Come March the bad losses are as noticeable, as stark and ugly, as footprints on a wedding cake – especially for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
In their most recent outings, the Colorado men’s and women’s basketball teams simply lost. Nothing more. As undesirable and unpalatable as both ‘L’s were, both teams believed there were underlying positives taken away from overall subpar games.
Given that the defeats occurred outside the Coors Events Center, both were against Top 10 opponents and both were by single-digits, they were the types of defeats that a coach can digest (after 24 hours or so) and eventually dissect in a constructive manner.
Tad Boyle’s men, ranked No. 20 at the time, fell last weekend in Las Vegas to No. 7 Oklahoma State, 78-73. Linda Lappe’s women, ranked No. 11, slipped at No. 7 Louisville, 69-62, and suffered their first loss of the season (9-1).
Provided there’s no implosion in their final non-conference games – Boyle’s team faces Georgia at 8 p.m. Saturday at the CEC, Lappe’s squad hosts Southern Utah at 2 p.m. Sunday – and no havoc awaits in the Pac-12, the pair of losses can’t be classified as bad and shouldn’t sabotage either Buffs team come spring.
“It’s a bad loss if you don’t learn anything from it and you don’t get better from it,” Lappe said. “Then it becomes a loss. If you get better from it, you win. It’s a win-win situation. The things we have to take out of it are the things that will make us a better team when we start conference play.
“And I think we have a veteran enough team, a mature enough team, to understand what that things are and start to make a change now and not wait for maybe another loss.”
LAPPE MET INDIVIDUALLY Friday with selected players for half an hour each, reviewing the Louisville tape and setting goals for improvement on Sunday and moving into Pac-12 play next week. Foremost for all of her players is a return to basics – Colorado basics.
In the Louisville game and a couple before, she said, “We haven’t done the things we emphasize. We haven’t been very good defensively, we haven’t been a good rebounding team and we haven’t been setting screens. That’s who we are, that’s what we can control every game. Those are all toughness categories . . . make sure we’re not getting pushed around, we’re holding our ground and being physical when we can be physical.”
Though they lost by seven points, the Buffs stayed within three points of the Cardinals for most of the afternoon. Junior guard Jasmine Sborov said she and her teammates “really didn’t have that much to hang our heads about. They’re a tough team and it was a good game. Looking back at film, we didn’t play that great at all. There’s a lot of things that didn’t go our way, but they’re things we can control. We realize that, and that’s the best kinds of things that can happen. We can fix them.”
Sborov, who is averaging 8.2 points and 3.6 rebounds, said while her game is no way needs a pre-conference overhaul, “I do think I had a more aggressive mentality four or five games ago than the past couple . . . this week I’m working on getting that back. That’s what it boils down to for me.”
For senior post Rachel Hargis, the nasty factor that Lappe is emphasizing hit home. Lappe has said repeatedly that the Buffs draw a big portion of their team toughness and physical nature from the 6-4 Hargis. And Hargis concedes supplying either has been a recent deficiency.
“The toughness is where it all starts – hitting people, being physical,” she said. “That’s how I’m used to playing. I need to do that instead of worrying about other things, just relax and not think so much about what I have to do instead of just playing. That hasn’t been working out. I need to relax and get back to being me.”
In the national polls, neither CU team paid a heavy price for the weekend losses. The women took one step down to No. 12 in the weekly Associated Press Top 25 and held at No. 14 in the USA Today Sports Coaches poll. The men also slipped one spot (No. 21, AP) but remained at No. 24 in the coaches’ rankings.
CONSIDERING THEIR GAMES were scheduled so close to the start of the conference season – the CU men open Pac-12 play on Jan. 2 vs. Oregon State, the women on Jan. 3 at Southern California – both Lappe and Boyle said the games against Top 10 opponents were necessary barometers for their programs.
“It was a great thing,” Lappe said. “Having it right before Christmas was very, very good, then being able to reflect on it during the four days we had off. It was very beneficial. Getting rejuvenated and having a game before conference is exactly what we need.”
Boyle’s to-do list before next week’s launch of Pac-12 play doesn’t differ greatly from Lappe’s. His team trailed the Cowboys by as many as 12 points but rallied to within four points in the final minute before succumbing in the MGM Grand Showcase. “I don’t feel like we played well,” Boyle said. “I don’t know how we kept it to a five-point game, then after watching the film and breaking down the numbers, I still feel that way. I like this team’s competitiveness, the toughness . . . obviously we’re talented, but execution-wise we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Specifically, he mentioned screening, saying the Buffs are not yet “a good screening team. Because we’re so good off the dribble we feel like we can create and beat anybody off the bounce. When you play good teams like Oklahoma State and you can’t beat them off the bounce you’ve got to rely on your sets offensively, your screening to get guys open – whether it’s ball screens or down screens or back screens . . . we’re just not a good screening team right now. It’s something we’ve really tried to address in practice.”
If the Buffs’ screens aren’t sounder and more precise, said junior guard Askia Booker, the offense will be as erratic as it was against the Cowboys: “We have to be patient with one another, not go off the screen if it’s not set yet. That was a problem against Oklahoma Stat – we set our man up but weren’t patient enough and couldn’t get the ball to some people because they weren’t open at the time. We had to break off our offense and score on our own. We’ve got guys capable of doing that as well, but if we’re not (screening) right we might as well be running the Princeton offense.”
Junior backcourt mate Spencer Dinwiddie – CU’s leading scorer at 15.7 points a game – also said the Buffs slipped defensively in the second half against Okie State: “For us to come out and play well defensively in the first half and not in the second half had very little to do with practice time (Boyle chided himself postgame for that) . . . nothing conceptually to do with defense has changed. The freshmen have been introduced to that since August, the rest of us going on three years now. It’s just about us getting stops really.”
THE BUFFS YIELDED their most points this season against the Cowboys (78) and allowed them to shoot 61.9 percent from the field in the second half (52.1 for the game). But positive takeaways for Boyle’s bunch included board work (a 41-30 rebound edge) and consistent games from sophomore post Josh Scott (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Booker (19 points). On the flip side of the scoring column, starting forwards Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson combined for five points on two-of-nine shooting – numbers that obviously disappointed Boyle but won’t leave him in a long-term funk.
“It was a subpar performance by both, but I don’t worry about either one of them with their talent, their will to win,” Boyle said. “Xavier Johnson’s been a big-game player for us, Wesley is still a freshman. We expect so much of (Gordon) because he is a redshirt, but he’s still a freshman. There are going to be dips.”
Added Dinwiddie: “Everybody has a bad game. I’m not worried about anybody on the roster. Everybody, in the role they’re in, is more than capable of filling it . . . there’s no role too big for any player. It’s just about going out and doing it. Bad games are going to happen; nobody’s perfect.”
Depending on the site, Boyle’s team currently has an RPI as high as No. 9, which speaks to non-conference schedule the Buffs (10-2) have played. In contrast, Georgia (6-4, but with five straight wins) is at No. 274 out of 351.
In Boyle’s first season, the Buffs suffered on Selection Sunday from a perilously cushy non-conference schedule and were left out of the NCAA Tournament field.
This non-conference schedule, said Dinwiddie, is what it should be: “I like it because it doesn’t give you this false sense of security. You don’t have these blinders on. You know what’s out there . . . you get kind of a good feel for yourself. You know what you’ve been through and what you’ve done well.”
Last weekend showed Boyle and Lappe what their teams haven’t done so well. The good news: no permanent damage was done in either of those losses. The better news: both coaches believe their best basketball hasn’t been played.