Buffs Grind Out First Pac-12 ‘W,’ Turn Focus To Ducks
BOULDER – For most of Thursday evening, Oregon State's zone defense baffled, befuddled and stymied Colorado's low post offense.
That coupled with a lack of success from beyond the arc left the Buffs in a very comprising position as the first-half came to an end. But, in a show of true grit, the team kept its composure, and played tenacious defense while finding other ways to score in the second half. And eventually, the Buffs hit pay dirt.
CU’s Pac-12 Conference opener began with an overwhelming Beaver defense imposing its will in the paint time and again against an undersized Colorado front court. A lengthy Oregon State lineup that included a rotation of four 6-10 big men provided a litany of problems as CU was limited to just eight points in the paint in a low-scoring first-half. With coach Tad Boyle's halftime adjustments and a renewed intensity came new life. The Buffs added 22 points in the paint after the break and eventually put away the pesky Beavers late en route to a 64-58 win at the Coors Events Center.
"If you look at our past games against them, last year we didn’t shoot the ball (well) either," said sophomore Josh Scott. "We weren’t very efficient against their defense. But I think it speaks a lot about our team and our guys that we were able to win. We weren’t shooting the ball well but we found a way.”
The No. 20 Buffs (12-2, 1-0) tried for a half to force the ball in amongst the towering Beaver front court to low-post threats Xavier Johnson and Scott often to no avail. In the second, it was an opportunistic Buffs defense that eventually opened things up underneath as 17 Oregon State turnovers led to 25 CU points. Many were scored in transition with layups and put-back dunks as the Beaver big men watched helplessly from the opposite end of the court.
"We just knew that the score was a little too close (at halftime)," said Johnson. "We had to come out with fire and energy (in the second half). We were slowing the game down and we had to start speeding them up and making them feel uncomfortable. That’s what we did. We had to get a lot of steals and transition – which is what we’re best at."
Oregon State (8-5, 0-1) limited Scott and Johnson to just six combined points in the first half as the Buffs were held to just 28 points overall. Although the duo recovered to score 16 of the team’s 36 second-half points, Oregon State made sure every one of those baskets were hard-fought. Colorado countered via its own defense which was able to continuously match that tenacity step for step with its own brand of hard-nosed play.
“They just keep coming at you with athletes off the bench,” said Boyle. “It’s a good win against a quality opponent, and we did what we had to do. The best thing is we won when we didn’t shoot the ball well. We talk about defense and rebounding being the cornerstones of our program. Tonight’s a good example of why that is and our guys did what they had to do.”
The Beavers’ success at the defensive end may have been the result of the return of defensive standout big man Eric Moreland, who served a 12 game suspension to open the season. Moreland, a 6-10 junior, made his first appearance of the year on Thursday and his impact became a driving factor throughout the game. He finished the contest with a team-high 10 rebounds and often stood as the biggest barrier to the basket for CU’s low-post scorers.
“Defensively he’s long, athletic, and shot blocks,” said Scott. “One of the games last year he gave us problems. So, offensively there were some adjustments especially when they play 1-3-1 (defensive zone) because you can’t really simulate how long and athletic he is. We adjusted, and it was good.”
The Buffs will now turn their attention to a Sunday afternoon ( 3p.m.) showdown with the unbeaten and No. 10 Oregon Ducks (13-0, 1-0) at the Events Center. After Thursday night’s grind-it-out affair, Sunday will offer a sharp contrast in styles as a high-flying Ducks team comes to Boulder with the nation’s top scoring offense (89.2 ppg).
Boyle called the Buffs’ defensive effort against the Beavers “good,” adding, “I’ve known that we’re capable of it. We just haven’t completely bought in, but tonight we did and we’re going to need that kind of effort on Sunday again because Oregon is very explosive from a lot of different positions. I think they’re the deepest team in our league in terms of talent, productive talent. It’s going to be one hell of an atmosphere, I hope.”
While Oregon State presents matchup issues down low, the Ducks present issues with their speed and perimeter shooting. The Ducks will look to run often and stretch CU’s defense in order to overcome their own lack of size. Oregon’s guard-dominated lineup has fueled its high-paced attack but also often leaves the team vulnerable on the defensive end.
“They’re a really good team,” said Scott. “We’re playing at home and we have another good team coming to Coors.. I’m pretty excited for the opportunity to beat them and establish ourselves. We played against a lot of zone (Thursday). We can do the zone. We love when teams play us man. We’re really potent and anybody can score on any given night. We’ll just take the defense we had tonight and whatever defense they have against us on Sunday and we will be ready for whatever.”
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