Something is missing from this Colorado basketball team. Players and coaches are trying to figure out what it is.
Coach Tad Boyle certainly has some ideas and he has been trying to work on them with players individually and as a team in practice.
But the players have recognized it, too, and it led to a players only 30-minute meeting Sunday.
Senior Sabatino Chen and junior Andre Roberson called the meeting a day after the Buffaloes fell to 1-3 in the Pac-12 Conference with a home loss to UCLA. Roberson described the meeting Monday as relaxed with no finger-pointing and everyone having an opportunity to speak. Roberson said he and Chen tried to encourage teammates to get back to what made last season's team so special.
One part of last year's team that this season's team can't replicate is former point guard Nate Tomlinson. Both Roberson and Boyle said after Monday's practice that the leadership quality Tomlinson brought to the program is missed.
"Nate was a special guy," Roberson said. "Every person is different. He carried special characteristics that helped this team out a lot. I feel like we don't have a guy like that this year. We've got to go about a different type of leadership."
Boyle said he knew at the outset this season that the program would miss Tomlinson. He hoped someone would eventually be able to fill his shoes and he continues to believe that can happen. He mentioned Roberson and Chen and other possibilities.
"Nate didn't care about scoring, he didn't care about shooting," Boyle said. "All Nate wanted to do was win. The thing about Nate is he had enough nastiness to him and competitiveness to him that he held his teammates accountable to what we wanted to get done. We miss Nate a lot."
Boyle said one of the reasons there isn't a player on this season's team who can lead as effectively as Tomlinson is no one this season has performed consistently enough that teammates will listen to them. Roberson and Chen are close, but both are generally quiet by nature.
The Buffs hit the road this week looking to get back on track at Washington and Washington State. CU is 1-4 in true road games this season but 4-4 in games played away from home. They went 3-0 in the Charleston Classic in November.
Roberson said one of the Buffs' problems is a tendency to allow the way the game is being officiated to affect the way they play.
"It's called mental toughness and that's one thing we're trying to get right," Roberson said. "The Navy Seals did help us a little bit at the beginning of the season, but I feel like we're kind of losing it a little bit and we need to try to get it refreshed back in our memories."
Boyle is constantly emphasizing mental toughness in practice and he said right now it's the area his team is lacking. Colorado's coach said the Buffs are not playing at the level they are capable of consistently on the defensive end and they are being out-rebounded too often. He said those two areas of the game are the two phases his program emphasizes most.
"With all that being said, it's a fine, fine line as to why we are where we are," Boyle said. "It's not like our offense is broken or our defense is not good enough. We're not doing the little things consistently enough to win close games or to put ourselves in position where we're up six or eight points coming down the stretch."
Boyle reacts to O'Neill firing
USC fired coach Kevin O'Neill on Monday. Boyle and the Buffs beat O'Neill last week at the Coors Events Center. It proved to be one of the final two games O'Neill spent leading the Trojans. He was in his fourth season.
"I'm obviously shocked and saddened and disappointed," Boyle said. "As a coach, you always hate to see other coaches lose their jobs, especially midway through the season, but there is probably more to it than I know. I respect Kevin O'Neill. I like him, I consider him a friend. So I was a little surprised by that."
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