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Buffs Eye Cougars, End To Four-Game Losing Streak

Jan 23, 2015

BOULDER - There's no quit in Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes. The head coach said as much Thursday night after a fourth consecutive Pac-12 Conference loss, this one to a Washington Huskies team that did all it could to help end CU's slide themsleves by committing more turnovers than they had made field goals in the first half. The defeat sent the Buffs reeling back to .500 with a world of new questions and very few answers as the clock on their 2014-15 season suddenly approaches midnight. 

 The end of a tumultuous two weeks, which also included injuries to two of their three leading scorers, seemed to be in its final stages as the Buffs clung to a late 50-48 lead over the tenacious Huskies with just over 3 minutes to play. Instead the Buffs went without field goal over the final stretch and eventually fell victim to a last-second jump shot by UW guard Andrew Andrews that promised to prolong the agony for just a bit longer. The shot gave Washington a 52-50 victory at the Coors Events Center and continued the Buffs' (9-9, 2-4) longest losing streak in nearly four years and dangerously close to do-or-die territory if they are to have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament for a fourth consecutive year.

The team could point to any number of reasons for its recent slide but the latest episode of ineptitude was highlighted by an offense that shot a meager 31.7 percent from the field and went both the final 4:47 of the first half and the final 3:07 of the second without a field goal on Thursday. After the game, a combination of the presence of the nation's leading shot blocker in 7-foot center Robert Upshaw and the baffling Washington zone defense were being charged as the biggest culprits of an unwavering level of CU futility.

But the fact that the team has scored three of its four lowest point totals of the season during its current dry spell suggests that problems on that side of the ball go far beyond any issue the Huskies may have presented. The Buffs have scored 49, 54, 72 and 50 points during their last four outings and have shot a combined 39.4 percent from the field over that stretch. 

The perfect remedy for CU's struggles though may be what comes next. Washington State (9-9, 3-3) will arrive at the CEC Saturday (6 p.m. Pac 12 Network) losers of two straight by a combined 39 points. But, perhaps more importantly, the Cougars will bring with them what ranks as the Pac 12's worst scoring defense. At 74.7 points per game, only a handful of teams in the country are allowing more points per game than struggling Wazzu.

"It's all about getting better," Boyle said. "Whether you win four in a row or lose four in a row, it's about the next day at practice or the next game at hand. You don't worry about streaks. You stay focused on improving individually as a player and certainly collectively as a team. We've got to shake it off and come to work."

The absence of high-scoring juniors Josh Scott (13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds), who is out with a back injury, and  Xavier Johnson (12.8, 5.4), who has missed time with an ankle sprain and a one-game suspension, for the last three games has left  a void in the team's ability to find a second scorer behind top point man Askia Booker.  Outside of the senior guard, only one player has scored as many as 12 points in any game during the losing streak.

On the occasion that Booker, too, struggles from the field, as he did Thursday night (2-of-13, 5 points), scoring opportunities have then become almost nil. Never was that more evident than in the waning moments against Washington.

The Buffs' final four possessions produced three ill-advised long range attempts fairly early in the shot clock and a careless turnover with 0:34 left that all but sealed their fate.

"We have to have a short-term memory," said sophomore Wesley Gordon. "We have Washington State next and we have to get ready. We need to have muscle memory."

CU is a perfect 5-0 against the Cougars since joining the Pac 12 back in 2011. Also playing into the Buffs' favor is the fact that WSU has allowed each of its previous four opponents to shoot 48 percent or better from the field - a number the Buffs haven't been north of since their last win on Jan. 4.

If there is anything that has allowed the Cougars to keep their head above water this season, it is their ability to share the basketball - they rank second in the Pac 12 in assists at 15 per game - and their three-point shooting - fourth at 7.33 per game. It is there that they will present the biggest challenge defensively for CU.

"We just can't hang our heads, just like coach Boyle said," said sophomore Jaron Hopkins. "We just have to come back with a positive attitude and a lot of energy. That'll get us out of this slump. We just have to stay positive."

After the WSU game, the Buffs will head back on the road, where they are winless so far this season, to take on USC (Thursday) and UCLA (Saturday).