Brooks: Buffs Can Atone Quickly In Pac-12 Tourney
BOULDER - On the eve of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, The Big Question for the Colorado Buffaloes is: Can they be that bad in consecutive games against the same opponent?
On the flip side, the Oregon State Beavers aren't asking questions. Instead, they're likely telling themselves that Wednesday's first-round game on a neutral court looks pretty appealing. Here's why: they lost to the Buffs in Corvallis by four points, then beat the Buffs in Boulder by six points.
So when the Beavs packed it up and left the Coors Events Center late last Saturday, how much confidence did they take with them?
"More than they came in with," CU coach Tad Boyle conceded Monday afternoon. "And that's a testament to the way they played and a reflection on how we played."
I asked the same question to Josh Scott and Spencer Dinwiddie and here's how Scott, CU's All-Pac-12 freshman post, answered: "I'm sure a lot. This is a hard place to win, especially because it was Senior Night. It was a big accomplishment for them, I'm sure. It's our job to go in there (Vegas) and show it's not going to happen again."
Added Dinwiddie, an All-Pac-12 first-teamer: "Anytime you win a game you get some confidence. But I think they know that we're not going to shoot 35 percent again. There are some games that we didn't execute particularly well - and that was one. I think they know they're in for a fight on Wednesday."
Let's hope Dinwiddie and the Buffs know it, too. That memo apparently was lost in the snow last weekend, particularly after Thursday night's inspired, decisive win (76-53) against then-No. 19 Oregon without Andre Roberson.
Did the Buffs succumb to an emotional letdown against the Beavers? Dinwiddie didn't think so: "I don't think there was . . . we all knew what we had to do, but we came out lackluster for whatever reason. We were focused; we just didn't always execute like we needed to do. That was disappointing, but it wasn't an emotional letdown."
But there was a letdown of some sort. I kept waiting for a critical stop in the final three or four minutes and it never happened. It was the kind of loss that pushes a coach over the edge, and Dinwiddie told me he'd never seen his coach reach the "Boyle-ing point" quite that fast in the locker room afterward.
"Definitely extremely upset," Dinwiddie said.
Boyle's will be among the first hands in the air if you polled Pac-12 coaches and asked them to vote on OSU's talent. Ahmad Starks is a capable, if streaky, point guard (he hit nine threes in CU's win in Corvallis, but managed only four points in Boulder). Eric Moreland is a springy, athletic 6-10 forward (he had a double-double last Saturday - 17 points, 10 rebounds). Guard Roberto Nelson finished regular season play as the Pac-12's leading scorer (19.1 in conference games). And the wide-bodied, red-topped Joe Burton is a player that Boyle last month lumped with the best passers in the league (Burton had only two assists, but 10 points/10 boards last weekend).
So how did the Beavers wind up 4-14 in the league (14-17 overall) and as the tourney's No. 12 seed? All that talent rarely seems to be on the same page and on most nights - or snowy afternoons - against a quality opponent OSU needs said foe to turn on itself. The Buffs obliged by allowing the Beavs:
- n to shoot 51.9 percent in the second half (Nelson got all of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes; he had 17 of his 21 in the second half in Corvallis);
- n a 38-32 rebound advantage (Roberson's 11.5 board average was missing; he'll make the trip to Vegas but remains day-to-day with a viral illness);
- n to disrupt their offense with a 2-3 zone that requires better ball movement and more accurate perimeter shooting than CU ever seemed to find.
In CU's four-point win in Corvallis, Dinwiddie hit all six of his field goal attempts - including four from beyond the arc - and all eight of his free throws. Of his 24 points, 17 were scored in the second half when the Buffs took control on offense and got stops at the other end.
With 13 points Saturday, Dinwiddie was the only CU player in double figures. Like his teammates, he frequently misfired, hitting three of his seven field goal attempts, but he was six of seven from the free throw line.
The Buffs' 35 percent from the field was their worst this season at home and second worst of the season anywhere. They hit six of their 21 three-point attempts, but that wasn't nearly good enough against the Beavers' zone.
"We didn't get as good ball movement as we should have," Dinwiddie said. "And even when we did, we had some open shots we didn't knock down. Anytime you shoot 35 percent, it's a lot to do with you. We had seven air balls in the game and coaches pointed out to us that five of those were open (shots). When you have five open shots (and airball them) that definitely can change the game."
Another game-changer: In Roberson's absence on Thursday night, freshman forward Xavier Johnson nearly did a Dinwiddie, going seven-of-seven from the field (three of three treys) and hitting five-of-six foul shots.
Less than 48 hours later, "XJ" went three-for-seven from the field, didn't get to the free throw line and finished with six points. He did, however, contribute seven rebounds and three blocked shots, but that didn't pacify him or alter his team's fate.
He blamed his offensive malady on a lack of concentration and said his team "just couldn't get an offensive flow going and the fact that we didn't shoot the ball that well. A lot of factors played into it." He called the overtime home loss to Arizona State "the worst by far, but this is probably second. It just killed us."
CU's offensive performance and its rare sleepwalk on defense are what gives Boyle sleepless nights. The Buffs have suffered through subpar shooting nights before, but their defense usually has offset them. They shot 36.5 percent last month at Oregon but won 48-47.
"Consistency has been hit and miss with this team," Boyle said. "The Utah game, the Oregon State game at home, those two come to mind as big disappointments. Great teams don't let that happen."
At the moment - and let's be honest here - the Buffs aren't to be confused with a great team. But even minus Roberson, they can be pretty good - as they showed against the Ducks and at other times this season. But they also showed unequivocally that when they flop, they're pretty solid at that, too.
Boyle believes that when the Pac-12 tourney tips off Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena (CU plays at 3:30 p.m. MST), as many as nine teams have a chance to do as the Buffs did last year in Los Angeles and cut down the nets. CU (20-10, 10-8) is the No. 5 seed and would play No. 4 seed Arizona (24-6, 12-6) if it can dispose of OSU.
Having recently played the Beavers, said Boyle, eliminates some scouting but is beneficial for both teams. "I don't think there's an advantage either way," he said. "There's less prep time for both teams. If we were playing Washington or Washington State or UCLA or USC, we haven't seen those guys in a while and we only saw them once . . . we just got done with Oregon State, but they just got done with us, too. It goes both ways. It's not advantage Buffaloes, it's an advantage for both coaches."
Still, the Buffs seem to like neutral courts and maybe that plays to their advantage in Vegas. They won four games in four days last March at the Staple Center and came back to Boulder as Pac-12 champs. They won three games in four days in November at the TD Arena in Charleston, S.C., and returned as Charleston Classic champs.
Neutral court success, said Boyle, stems from "relying on each other, playing for each other, staying together and playing with toughness. Neutral courts have been good to us since we've been here. Our team will be ready."
I asked Scott if he believes it's good to draw the Beavers again while the memory of Saturday's Senior Day debacle lingers. "Yeah," he said. "I'm really happy (and) excited that we can play them again. I think it works out kind of nice. I think we can beat them . . . we have fuel to beat them. I think it's going to be good for us; it's a good matchup for us."
Added Dinwiddie: "The bad thing about it was it being Senior Night and us not being able to send our seniors off on the right note. We're striving for that to be our last game at the Coors Events Center this year. It's no secret we want to make the (NCAA) Tournament. And we know that didn't help us. We were really made about quite a few things. We were lackluster; it wasn't our best performance."
Now comes the rare chance for quick atonement. From this point forward, as Boyle reminds, it's win or go home - then wait on Selection Sunday. The Buffs' wait will be less than comfortable if they're dealing with consecutive losses to their conference's last-place team.