Buffs Looking To Get Back On Track Against Bears
BOULDER - When Colorado men's basketball coach Tad Boyle gathered his team after practice Wednesday, his message to them was simple, yet complex:
"It's time to start making sacrifices."
He elaborated later: "Spend more time in the gym, less time playing video games. Making sure you're getting enough sleep, taking care of your body. On the court, we gotta sacrifice for each other. Think about making plays for your teammates, and not just think about what you're doing, how you're playing. Think about the guy to your right and the guy to your left."
Colorado (11-11, 4-6) did not make those sacrifices against Utah Saturday night, and it suffered the worst home loss of Boyle's tenure. So the Buffs, their bodies recharged and their confidence repaired, prepare to sacrifice and grind and fight through Thursday night's matchup against the surging California Bears (7 p.m., Coors Events Center, Fox Sports 1).
"I was pleased," Boyle said of his team's performance in practice. "As disappointing as Saturday night was, I think our mindset is pretty good. One thing I've learned in 27 years of coaching is kids are resilient."
Two weeks ago, the Bears (15-9, 5-6) would have been a more attractive prospect for a rebound ' Cal ended January on a six-game losing streak, capped with a homestead against Arizona and Arizona State that the Bears blew by a combined 53 points.
Since then, though, Cal has won four straight games, two of them blowouts, and the Bears are rapidly climbing up the Pac-12 leaderboard in coach Cuonzo Martin's first season in Berkeley. Cal is an unspectacular statistical team; the Bears are 11th in the conference in scoring, eighth in field goal percentage and ninth in points allowed, but they have three guards ' Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird ' who are legitimate threats to drop 20 points on a given night, and all three have stepped up during Cal's streak.
Bird is a slasher, Matthews a sniper (he shoots 44 percent from deep), but Wallace makes the Bears go. The junior was overshadowed by Justin Cobbs a year ago, but he has filled that lead guard role and then some. Wallace leads Cal in scoring (17.4 points per game), rebounding (7.9) and assists (3.8). He is the only player in the Pac-12 who ranks in the top 10 in the conference in all three categories, and he has become the conference's most well-rounded guard.
Wallace's rebounding presents a unique challenge for Colorado; even if the Buffs box out the Bears' bigs, Wallace is excellent at judging the trajectory of a missed shot, sneaking in from the perimeter to crash the glass, and taking the ball coast to coast.
"All I can do is box my man out and try to get the rebound like usual, same as any big," forward Josh Scott said. "It really falls upon the guards to take the challenge and get stops and rebound the ball and make sure he's boxed out at all times."
Colorado is ecstatic that Scott is boxing out anyone at all ' his return against Utah from a back injury gives the Buffs their full available lineup for the first time since the New Year.
"It gives us an extra low-post scorer," Boyle said. "It gives us an extra great defender, it gives us a guy who's one of the best defenders in the league, I think."
There are maybe two big men in the Pac-12 who can guard Scott one-on-one when he is healthy. Scott didn't start against Utah but put up an encouraging 10 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. His return will make Colorado less reliant on Askia Booker in the half-court, and the Buffs have sorely missed Scott's rebounding and elite-level free-throw shooting. He's missed being out there, too ' he called the last month "miserable."
"We need him," Boyle said. "We need Josh Scott. There's no question."
All the enthusiasm over Scott's return, though, comes with the kicker when he is healthy. Scott isn't healthy right now, not fully; Colorado has yet to see how he responds to playing extended minutes, and lingering back injuries to big men are always scary.
"I'm out of shape," Scott said. "Being out for a month does that to you. I have some pain. I'm probably gonna be in pain the rest of the season. That's what it is. Every athlete at this level has some sort of pain going on at this point of the season."
So perhaps Colorado, at this point, should not be celebrating Scott's return as much as pushing for his continued recovery. Scott's health and productivity are critical if the Buffs want to make a run deep into the Pac-12 Tournament and whatever might be beyond.
Now, though, postseason play is the least of Colorado's concerns, because the Bears are charging hard into Boulder, and there are sacrifices to be made.