Brooks: Buffs Take Look At 2011-12 For Tips On ‘D’
BOULDER – Stop me if you’ve heard this, but don’t try and stop Tad Boyle from repeating it. Not that he ever left it, but he’s back on his better defense kick – in a big, big way.
Before Tuesday’s practice, he showed his Colorado basketball team clips of the 2011-12 Buffs, his second team. To refresh, that’s really the squad that got the ball rolling in CU’s Boyle Era – or as he might prefer, stopped the ball, shut off the penetration, locked down the perimeter . . . you get the picture.
To further refresh, the 2011-12 Buffs closed out the regular season with little fanfare – something far south of fanfare to be honest. They lost three of their final four, dropping one at home against Stanford, defeating Cal, then losing two in the Pacific Northwest to the Oregon schools.
Next up was the Pac-12 Tournament in LA, the conference’s first and only postseason stop in the Staples Center before it went even glitzier, shifting to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. And it was a Grand four days for the Buffs. Four straight wins, including a two-point “W” over Arizona in the championship game.
All was good in Boyle’s world, mainly because that group arrived in LA and either by individual or collective choice reassembled on the same page – Boyle’s page – and manned up. Literally. Defense carried the Buffs.
Oh, there were a few guys with more than enough offensive skills – Carlon (“Downtown” or “Throw It Down”) Brown, Austin Dufault, Spencer Dinwiddie come to mind – to hit a big bucket. But in those four wins in LA, the opponents (Utah, Oregon, Cal, Arizona) scored 41, 62, 59 and 51 points, respectively.
Can you say “’D’ it up?” Boyle could, did, and has frequently since.
On Tuesday, the 2014-15 Buffs – with only Askia Booker a holdover from the Pac-12 Championship team – watched in collective silence as their predecessors went into grind-it-out mode and won the league’s first postseason tournament.
“That’s why I wanted them to see it,” Boyle said. “And I wanted to remind ‘Ski.’ That’s why I asked him, ‘You’ve been around when it’s worked, and now you’re around when it’s not working. Tell me the difference.’ . . . As coaches it’s our job to not only teach and lead, but we’ve got to get our players to take ownership and have an identity.”
I ASKED SOPHOMORE WING Tre’Shaun Fletcher what he had come away with when the lights went back up in the film room. “Just how much they helped each other,” he answered. “It’s all about covering for the other guy, helping out when there’s a mistake . . . and how hard they played.”
Hard lessons for a young team to learn, but if these Buffs are to salvage a season of shrinking expectations they’d better get to it. Boyle’s biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s tape review might have been two specific series of clips – the regular-season trip to Utah and the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament.
In that game, he recalled, “We went seven and a half minutes without a basket . . . we maintained the lead because we locked in defensively. We showed the team multiple clips from that game.”
At Utah, he said, “With four minutes to go, they had 44 points. With 50 seconds to go they had 46 . . . we shut their water off. We did it against Oregon and Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament. We did it against Arizona . . . we did it for multiple games down the stretch that year.”
In Pac-12 play, the 2011-12 Buffs allowed 63.9 points per game and 41.1 field goal percentage. The 2014-15 Buffs are allowing 68.2 point a game and 42.1 field goal shooting. There’s not a striking difference in the field goal percentages, but what is striking is this team’s difficulty in closing out close games.
Continued Boyle on the success of the 2011-12 squad: “It wasn’t because we were making shots and setting the world on fire offensively. It was because we were committed to getting stops, limiting teams to one shot and winning with our defense. If this team could get that mentality our record would be a lot different. And until we get that mentality our record is not going to change in terms of ups and downs.”
Not all of Boyle’s five CU teams have committed to shut-down defense – and I’m not talking solely about No. 5. Trace it perhaps to a “getting acquainted” initial season, but Boyle says his first team appeared reluctant to take on his defense/rebounding identity.
“But 17 games into the season they were averaging 84 points a game . . . they took on their own identity; they could outscore people,” he said, more amused than anguished. “If we want to take on (that ID) I’m not going to get mad at these guys for scoring 84 points a game. But we don’t have a lottery pick (Alec Burks) on the floor. We don’t have the all-time leading scorer (Cory Higgins). We don’t have the sixth man of the year in the league, Levi Knutson, banging down the threes. We’ve got a different cast of characters. So we’d better have a little different mentality.”
Thus far, the Buffs’ heads have been somewhere else, for the most part. Injuries to Josh Scott (back) and Xavier Johnson (ankle) have contributed to a three-game conference losing streak – the first time that’s happened in CU’s Pac-12 membership – and a 2-5 mark in the last seven games.
But the Pac-12 standings are jumbled, with plenty of time remaining for the Buffs to “rise from the muck,” as Boyle likes to say. There’s a three-way tie for first, a three-way tie for second, and a three-way tie for third – with CU, Washington and Oregon composing that latter threesome.
UW (13-4, 2-3) visits the Coors Events Center Thursday night (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1), followed by Washington State (9-8, 3-2) on Saturday (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). Best-case scenario for the Buffs: a get-well weekend. No need to get into the worst case.
On Thursday night, CU once again will be without Johnson, who is serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules on last week’s Arizona trip. Scott’s status remains day-to-day, but Boyle remains hopeful the 6-10 post can play.
THE BUFFS COULD USE HIM against the Huskies’ 7-0 Robert Upshaw, the nation’s leading shot blocker (4.5 a game) and a game-changer on the order of former Arizona State big guy Jordan Bachynski. Upshaw, a junior, already holds UW’s school record for single season blocks (77) and has scored 25 points with 27 rebounds in the Huskies’ last two games – wins that broke a four-game losing streak.
Of Upshaw, who averages 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds, Boyle says, “He’s got great timing and length. Put him at the rim and he protects it pretty well . . . we have to find different ways to get there. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to attack, but we have to understand when to get there, when not to.”
Guarding Upshaw likely will fall to 6-9 Wesley Gordon, 6-9 Tory Miller and 6-7 Dustin Thomas. Boyle says that trio will be offered “great offensive rebounding opportunities . . . they have to be ready if he does block it, then get the next shot, or if misses a block get the rebound.”
The Buffs also would benefit from another strong game from the 6-7 Fletcher, who scored a career-high 10 points at Arizona State and contributed three rebounds and an assist. Fletcher’s confidence climbed last weekend, and he attributed that in part to his being more aggressive.
In Scott’s and Johnson’s absences, Fletcher has started the past two games, which Boyle points out makes for a different scenario for some young players.
“Every kid is different,” Boyle said. “You don’t want to put the cart before the horse; they have to get there themselves . . . only time will tell. It’s a lot different when you’re coming off the bench and playing in spurts. Then you’re in the starting lineup and you’re playing multiple minutes and you come to the forefront a little bit. You’ve got to be more disciplined and more consistent in everything you do. I think that’s something he and Dustin (Thomas) are both experiencing right now.”
But the hope is that Fletcher will take his performance at ASU and run, shoot, rebound and defend with it. “He’s a guy that’s capable, no question about it,” Boyle said. “He’s got good basketball skills, ability, length – it’s just a matter of (tapping his temple) the mental fortitude and confidence to get it done.”
Those last two intangibles – the mental fortitude and confidence – are team-wide needs that “Fletch” & Co. saw in their tape study of the 2011-12 Buffs. “I think we have the potential to be just as good as that team defensively,” Fletcher said. “But we just have to come together to do it. We have to get hot, we’ve got to roll and we’ll be all right. It’s not like we don’t want to do it, it’s that we just do it in spurts. We all just have to do it consistently.”
With 13 Pac-12 games remaining, there’s plenty of time for that consistency to surface. But the time is growing short for the Buffs to identify who they want to be. Defend or continue to let it slide? They’ve been shown the template for a way out.