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Woelk: Chemistry A Key Commodity For Boyle's Buffs

Jan 19, 2021

 

BOULDER — Maybe the only downside to what is unfolding for Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes is that fans can't be present to watch it transpire.

Otherwise, what's happening in Boulder has the earmarks of a very special season and the potential for a very bright future.

As they prepare to hit the road for a pair of games in the Pacific Northwest this week (Washington on Wednesday, Washington State on Saturday), the Buffs will take with them a top-10 NCAA NET ranking, a fistful of momentum and a bucketload of confidence.

It is all well-earned. The 11-3 Buffs (5-2 Pac-12) have won four in a row, including a victory over then-No. 17 Oregon, plus a road win over USC — the only other Pac-12 team with a top 20 NET.

They also have one of the nation's best players in senior point guard McKinley Wright IV, a terrific freshman in Jabari Walker, and the kind of depth and versatility that could make them a tough out come postseason tournament time.

When the season began, Boyle knew he had a gem in Wright — and all the senior has done is play his best basketball ever. Wright is averaging a team-leading 15.1 points per game, along with 4.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists while reducing his turnovers to less than two per game. Most importantly, he brings the glue of leadership that can't be quantified — but is invaluable.

But the Buffs are more than Wright. What Boyle called "untested depth" way back in October is passing the test with flying colors.

The 6-foot-8 Walker is blossoming into one of the conference's best freshmen and is already drawing national attention. In last week's three CU victories, he recorded back-to-back double-doubles in wins over Utah and Cal, and just missed a third in a victory over Stanford. For the week, he averaged 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor (18-for-30), including 5-for-7 from 3-point range.

Then there's the powerful one-two punch up front from junior Evan Battey and senior grad transfer Jeriah Horne. 

Battey is averaging 10.0 points and 5.6 rebounds and playing excellent defense in the post. His 13 points and 12 rebounds were a key in the win over Stanford. Horne, meanwhile, is mirroring Battey's numbers, averaging 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds.

On the wing, senior D'Shawn Schwartz is averaging 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds, and he also had a double-double last week with a 15 and 15 effort against Utah.

But the depth and versatility is more than just numbers. Junior guard Eli Parquet brings tenacious defense and quietly has added big buckets, blocked shots and key rebounds at critical junctures. Big man Dallas Walton, who has missed the last six games, is expected back this week and will bring a rim protector and scoring potential in the paint.

And, outside shooter Maddox Daniels appears to be rounding into form, as he connected on six of his 12 long distance attempts last week.

It all adds up to a team that is difficult to guard, a team that plays solid defense — and one that still has plenty of room to improve as the Buffs continue their march through Pac-12 play.

 "I love this team and I love our versatility and our depth," Boyle said after the win over Stanford. "I think our depth this year is even a little bit better than it was last year. We just need that consistency. You have to know what you're going to get from your guys every night."

That's something that Boyle admits might have been missing from last year's team — one that spent a dozen weeks in the nation's top 25 and was headed for the NCAA Tournament before Covid-19 shut down college sports.

But maybe the biggest piece of this year's success thus far has been something that can't be coached — chemistry. That culture is a commodity that has to grow organically, and thus far, these Buffs have cultivated it wonderfully.

"Our main focus has just been about focusing on playing together and as a team," Horne said last weekend. "When McKinley came out, he said the one thing he loves about this team is how no one cares about their own stats and we're just focused on winning. That sums it up completely. We go out there and play for each other and the coaches. It's a family and we have a very strong bond on and off the court and I think that chemistry really shows on the court."

Boyle has always made such an attitude a key part of his philosophy. Every season, his opening thought of the day to his team is, "It's amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit."

Of course, getting players to buy into that attitude is never a guarantee — but so far, the Buffs have embodied that approach.

"Your culture is based upon the players you have in it," Boyle said. "You send that message to every team, but every team doesn't accept it. Every team doesn't take it to heart and go out there and exhibit it. This team has, and as long as we continue to do that we're going to have a lot of success because our guys truly don't care who gets the shot. We have a great group of character guys that are fun to coach and I think they really truly love playing with each other and care about each other. That's special because that doesn't happen all the time. People talk about it but it doesn't always happen."

There is, of course, plenty of season left. CU is barely one-third of the way through the Pac-12 schedule, and the threat of a Covid-19 interruption is always just a cotton swab away.

But while this team no doubt has its stars — and budding stars — its foundation doesn't rest on just one set of shoulders. If the Buffs can continue to improve and develop that consistency Boyle seeks, they could be a very fun team to watch down the season's stretch.

Even if we can only see it from our televisions.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu