Brooks: Booker Keys Second-Half Surge In Buffs’ Win
BOULDER – The Colorado men’s basketball flipped its early season format Wednesday night. Rather than starting fast, the Buffs strolled into the Coors Events Center then slowed even more. But the last 5 minutes of the first half and the first 8 of the second were played at another pace and another level.
Aided by the effects of Boulder’s altitude, the home team’s revved up attitude in the second half and Askia Booker’s rediscovered marksmanship, CU flipped and San Francisco flopped. The Buffs overran the Dons 72-55, posting their 23rd consecutive non-conference home win.
“We’re still looking for the 40-minute game, I guess,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “But I do think the first half had a lot to do with San Francisco. They’ll win some games this year. They’re a well-coached team, a tough team, and a talented team.”
Trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half, the Buffaloes (5-1) rallied to close the deficit to 34-32 at halftime, then opened the second half with an 18-4 run and took control. The Dons (4-3) were limited to 21 second-half points and after hitting 6 of 13 3-pointers in the first half could manage only one of seven in the second half.
Meanwhile, Booker scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, going 5-of-6 from beyond the arc for the game and knocking down back-to-back treys that helped ignite the Buffs’ decisive second-half run.
“That’s the guy we see in practice,” Boyle said. “His teammates know how good he is, his coaches know how good he is, he knows how good he is . . . (but) it’s so much mental with ‘Ski.’ When he’s in a good frame of mind, positive and dialed in, things are good; when he’s not, things are not good.”
But the good “Ski” settled in at the CEC Wednesday night, and his overall game showed it. He hit 8-of-12 from the field, contributed three rebounds and three assists, got one steal and had a pair of turnovers in 30 minutes. He said he believes his maturity is showing, as well as up to 2 hours of extra time shooting.
“I’ve just been trying to clear my mind and be prepared for the game,” he said. “I trust coach and the system we’re running.”
Boyle said his team’s transition defense was “atrocious” in the first half, but that and the Buffs’ intensity improved noticeably in the second. He said he detected the Dons dragging: “I think that San Francisco wore down. I looked at the minutes at halftime and saw that a few of their top guys had quite a few minutes next to their names.”
Only one of Booker’s teammates reached double figures in scoring. Post Josh Scott contributed 12 points and a team-best 6 rebounds, but the Dons out-boarded the Buffs 33-24. CU committed only eight turnovers – a third of them late – and had 15 assists. Tre’Shaun Fletcher, starting in place of Xavier Johnson (hamstring), contributed a career-high four assists.
CU scored 29 points off of 18 USF turnovers and finished at 50 percent from the 3-point arc (9-for-18) and 50.9 percent (27-of-63) from the field.
After leading 7-0, the Buffs fell behind by as many as 10 points (21-11) in the first half before pulling to within two at intermission. The Dons used a 14-2 run to take their 10-point advantage, getting two of their six first-half 3-pointers in that stretch.
Both were hit by senior guard Chris Adams, who hit three of his four trey attempts in the first 20 minutes and was the half’s leading scorer with 9 points. CU tightened its perimeter defense in the second half, allowing USF to hit only one of seven attempts.
The Buffs were sporadic at best on the offensive end in the opening half, but settled into their offense in the second half. They went to their locker room at intermission having hit only 40.6 percent from the field (13-of-32), with Xavier Talton’s 6 points the team high.
There was much for the Buffs to improve on in the second half, and they got to it early. They outscored the Dons 18-4 to open the half, with the run starting like this:
After he scored in the paint on a nice entry pass from Talton to pull CU to within 36-34, Wes Gordon took another inside pass on the next possession but rifled the ball to Booker at the top of the key.
Booker drained that 3-ball, sending CU up 37-36 for its first lead since 9-7. He was starting to find his stroke and the offense was getting in synch. On the Buffs’ next offensive trip Booker pulled up for another 3-pointer from the left wing, hit it and CU led 40-36.
Dustin Thomas and Fletcher took it from there, with Thomas scoring a couple of baskets inside and Fletcher hitting a leaner from just in front of the foul line.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” Thomas said. “We came out kind of slow and we didn’t want another team coming in here and giving it to us in the first half.”
Suddenly, with crisper ball movement yielding more high percentage shots, CU had a 46-38 lead with 14 minutes to play. Less than 2 minutes later a Booker jumper and two Jaron Hopkins free throws gave the Buffs their first double-digit lead (50-40) of the night at the 12:12 mark.
The Dons were in danger of tumbling over the edge and Booker took them one step closer with his third trey of the half. It gave the Buffs a 55-44 lead, with an inside basket by Scott making it 57-44 with just over 8 minutes remaining.
USF could get no closer than 9 points for the remainder of the game and trailed by as many as 19 in the final 2 minutes.
CU travels south this weekend, playing at SEC member Georgia on Sunday morning (10 a.m. MST). The trip, said Boyle, offers “a great opportunity for our guys and our program . . . we’re looking forward to it.”