Buffs Try To Cope With Dinwiddie's Loss, Eye Trojans
BOULDER - Just a few short days ago Colorado basketball was thriving. The team had reached its highest ranking in the polls in nearly 16 years and had begun the gauntlet that is the Pac-12 schedule, with a 3-0 record.
Then Sunday came.
In the time since, things have gone from bad to worse for the No. 21 Buffs (14-4, 3-2), culminating with their second consecutive conference defeat, a 69-56 loss to UCLA at the Coors Events Center on Thursday. In the first full game without leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs struggled to score against the athletic Bruins as they continue to search for ways to fill the void left by their most dynamic playmaker.
"It's going to be a work in progress," said head coach Tad Boyle. "We didn't finish and we turned it over 17 times. It's hard. We're going to be fine. We just have to come together; we have to believe in each other; we have to rely on each other. It's not one person, it's a team game. We have a bunch of good players. We just have to play like it."
After two months of prosperity to begin the season, CU's fortunes took that unfortunate turn for the worst late in the first half of Sunday's game at Washington. It ended with the same pain and heartache that has, more often than not, come to symbolize Colorado basketball's agonizing past.
Dinwiddie, CU's junior point guard, and talented freshman Tre'Shaun Fletcher both went down with significant knee injuries in the game and in what seemed like an instant, a seven-point first half lead turned into a demoralizing 17-point loss. Coupled with Thursday's loss to UCLA, the team's first at home this season, the Buffs stand at 3-2 in the conference and searching for answers.
"It's rough," said Junior Askia Booker whose 21 points, including 5-7 from 3-point range, highlighted an otherwise forgettable offensive evening on Thursday. "(Dinwiddie) is one of our best scorers, the best player on the team. We don't have him anymore and there are no more excuses. We just have to keep fighting, stand by one another, and we have to make up for it."
The loss of Dinwiddie leaves the Buffs without their leader in a number of statistical categories, but the biggest blow to the team may be his leadership role on the court. While Boyle understands that role will be harder to replace, he fully expects the rest of the team to step and fill the statistical void that Dinwiddie's absence has created.
Freshman Jaron Hopkins has taken over Dinwiddie's spot in the starting lineup but his two points on one-for-six shooting won't make many forget about the injured star any time soon. As he and his backcourt mates attempt to adjust to life without their biggest star, more will probably be expected of CU's low-post scorers.
Big man Josh Scott shot an impressive 7-of-12 from the field for 19 points on Thursday, but the struggles of front court peers Xavier Johnson (one-of-six, two points) and Wesley Gordon (zero-of-three, two points) left a transitioning offense with few options in the paint. As a result, UCLA outscored CU 34-18 inside, which factored heavily into the outcome.
"We had the ball right at the rim and we missed them," said Boyle. "We missed shots that we normally would convert but I thought our guys tried to do the right thing. For the most part, I think we took good shots. I look at the efficiency of both Booker and Scott, 7-of-12 and 7-of-11; we'll take those numbers every night. Some other guys didn't shoot it and finish like they're capable of. Johnson is capable of playing better. Wes (Gordon) is capable of playing better."
As the team continues to battle its way through the conference, it becomes paramount that CU quickly relieves itself of its recent erraticism on the offensive end of the court. Since the Dinwiddie injury late in Sunday's first half, the team is shooting a combined 37 percent from the field.
"We've shown that we can do it in the past but we have to keep believing," said Boyle. "This group is going to be fine; it's been an emotional week. Disappointed, but at the same time, I'm encouraged about the future, the players we have, and I believe in every one of them."
If there is one bright spot in the aftermath of Thursday's loss it is that the team has a an opportunity to put it behind them quickly as they begin preparation for Saturday afternoon's home tilt with struggling USC (noon, Fox Sports 1).
Under first-year head coach Andy Enfield, USC (9-8, 0-4) has struggled to be competitive within a deep Pac-12. The Trojans have lost all four of their conference games so far this season by an average of 28 points. Their lack of success could be contributed to a scoring defense that is allowing 86 points per game in league play.
With one of the nation's worst scoring defenses coming to town, the Buffs will have a golden opportunity to regain their footing offensively and overcome the growing pains of playing without Dinwiddie on Saturday.
"It feels like the beginning (of the season again)," said Booker. "I have to be aggressive. Josh has to be aggressive from the get-go and so do the other guys; Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon. Those guys have to step up. If they don't step up we are kind of out for a third or fourth person. And it's not just them. It's the bench. They have to box out and rebound. They have to knock down open shots. And when we get that, we're good."