Brooks: Buffs’ Block Party Sets Tone In Rout Of USC
BOULDER – Any lingering memories of the Colorado Buffaloes’ painful loss on Thursday night to UCLA – their first home defeat of the 2013-14 season – were quickly blocked out on Saturday.
Literally, forcefully, fervently.
Swatting away seven first-half shots and setting a pedal-to-the-metal pace that produced an early 20-2 lead, No. 21 CU slapped Southern California 83-62 at the Coors Events Center.
“This was just what the doctor ordered for this team . . . this was the kind of game we needed,” CU coach Tad Boyle said, noting the timing of the win couldn’t have been better after the 69-56 loss to UCLA and knee injuries last weekend that ended point guard Spencer Dinwiddie’s junior season and shelved freshman wing Tre’Shaun Fletcher for 6-8 weeks. Both players will undergo surgery.
Continued Boyle: “I’m really proud of our guys, from the end of the bench to the guys on the floor, for the way they responded. We talked about it at halftime; the frustrating thing about the UCLA game was second-chance points (20) and points off turnovers (20 off of 17 CU errors). We had four turnovers at halftime (12 total) and they had two offensive rebounds.
“Our team took what they had not done against UCLA and did a much better job. Obviously it’s one game, we have to move on. I said this after the UCLA game and I’ll say it again, ‘Don’t count this team out.’ These guys have toughness, they have grit, and we can win some games in this league. All you can ask for in life is an opportunity and we have a great one in front of us.”
That would be a Thursday night game at No. 1 Arizona, followed by a Saturday visit to Arizona State – a pair of desert spots where the Buffs went 0-2 last season to begin Pac-12 play. But needing a win Saturday to break a current two-game losing streak and maybe reestablish some of their swagger, the Buffs did both against the Trojans – obviously a right-place, right-time opponent.
Still, junior guard Askia Booker, one of four Buffs in double figures Saturday, kept the 21-point blowout in perspective. “We can’t get drunk off of this win,” he said. “USC is pretty low in the (Pac-12) standings and we’re about to go play the No. 1 team in the country. We have to stay locked in as a team.”
The Buffs (15-4 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) finished Saturday with a season-high 10 blocked shots – six shy of the school record – and held the Trojans (9-9, 0-5) to 36 percent shooting from the field while hitting 50.9 percent of their own shots.
CU outrebounded the visitors by 20 (43-23), with redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon collecting a game-high eight rebounds and accounting for five of the Buffs’ blocked shots. He also scored five points, made two assists, got one steal and hit two of his three shots from the field – including his first career 3-pointer.
“I loved the pace of the game,” said Boyle. “Our interior defense was good, blocking shots was good (and) getting off to a 20-2 lead was a confidence builder for our guys.”
Booker called the Buffs’ shot blocking “very important . . . blocked shots lead to transition baskets and that’s where we’re at our best. We’ve got big guys who run and finish.”
USC, said Booker, was noticeably frustrated with having its early shots contested and rejected: “Without a doubt . . . their No. 10 (Pe’Shon Howard) was looking around like, ‘I can’t get a layup up without it being knocked away.’ It’s really good when we’re all locked in and getting that kind of help from the weak side.”
That’s what Booker supplied on one of the more creative and crowd-pleasing first half blocks. Booker, pushing 6-2 in his sneakers, flew in and batted away a layup attempt by Trojans 7-footer D.J. Haley. It was only Booker’s second rejection of the season – and don’t bet on him forgetting it.
“I guess it was a pretty nice block and I’ll probably go watch that again,” Booker said. “It’s not that high; it’s just a good defensive play and we need stops like that whether it’s from me or Jaron (Hopkins) or Josh (Scott).”
CU also was nearly perfect from the free throw line, hitting 19 of 22 (86 percent) with Booker hitting all six of his attempts. He finished with 13 points on three-of-five shooting and had six of CU’s 15 assists.
“He has never had a game like this,” Boyle said. “He played within himself and was efficient. When he’s efficient we’re pretty darn good; I thought he was terrific.”
Booker was one of four Buffs in double figures, topped by Josh Scott’s 20. Xavier Johnson and Jaron Hopkins added 10 points each. J.T. Terrell and 7-2 center Omar Oraby led USC with 16 points apiece.
The Buffs led by as many 18 points in the first half and were up 17 (40-23) at intermission courtesy of a Booker buzzer beater. It came on a sweet step back shot by “Ski,” but it wasn’t indicative of the first-half storyline.
CU was demonic on defense with its shot-blocking spree and holding UCLA to two points for the game’s first 8:18. At the 11:48 mark, the Bruins were one of 12 from the field (8 percent) and the Buffs led 20-2, with the final five points of that bulge coming on two free throws by Booker after a technical foul on USC coach Andy Enfield and a 3-pointer by George King.
None of the Trojans escaped the Buffs’ first-half intensity – not even Enfield. The CU student section harassed him – good naturedly, of course – with a blown up mug shot of his wife, former model Amanda Marcum. But that probably wasn’t what incited the “T;” blame the Buffs for that. There was no discrepancy of personal fouls: USC was whistled for 16, CU for 15.
“We felt very confident coming in here,” Enfield said, “but give Colorado credit. They made a lot of shots . . . a lot of jump shots and they got some layups from their big players. They’re excellent players.”
After a 2-2 tie, CU quickly established its double-digit lead and USC never came any closer than 12 points for the remainder of the game. USC scored the first two baskets of the second half, cutting CU’s lead to 40-27. But the Buffs quickly regained their edge and then some, launching a 16-2 run to build their largest lead of the game – 27 points at 56-29 – to that point. CU would lead by 28 with 5:36 remaining.
Boyle used every available player, and 11 of the 12 scored. Crowd favorites Ben Mills got four points and collected five rebounds, with guard Beau Gamble draining a trey for CU’s final points.
With Dinwiddie and Fletcher missing and upgrades expected from his players across the board, Boyle said the Buffs are not trying to create a new team identity: “Our identity is not going to shift. Our identity is going to be we’re going to guard you, we’re going to take care of the ball and we’re going to rebound the ball . . .
“I was planning on playing next year without Spencer Dinwiddie anyway – it just came a little bit earlier. You’re getting a pretty good peek into next year’s team. It’s imperative that we understand that we have to get better every day. That’s the identity of our team, to get better every day.”
If the Buffs’ improvement is fast-tracked, that would be OK with Boyle. He’s got four days before tipoff in Tucson.