Here's the fine line between a 3-4, or maybe even a 4-3, start in the Pac-12 Conference and the cold 0-7 reality facing the Colorado Buffaloes.
After CU's defeat last week at Washington, head coach Tad Boyle was discouraged (to put it mildly) at the glaring defensive lapse that led to the Huskies' go-ahead 3-pointer from David Crisp, a play that pretty much summarized the defensive woes, particularly along the perimeter, that marked the Buffs' 0-2 trip.
A putback basket by Xavier Johnson gave CU an 81-80 lead with 32.3 seconds left in overtime. One defensive stop probably would've ended the Buffs' winless start in league play at 0-5. And who knows? Maybe a key defensive stop inspires a better defensive performance two days later in what became an overtime loss at Washington State.
Instead, while playing zone defense, the Buffs ran to spots rather than stopping the ball. And Crisp, already 3-for-4 on 3-pointers after halftime, was left wide open.
Having finally had an opportunity to review the play after the road trip, I asked Boyle on Monday if perhaps the guys on the floor suffered a miscommunication on what defense they were supposed to be in. In the 2-3 setup, guard Dom Collier took position just beyond the top of the key and was the only CU player who even gestured toward Crisp. Derrick White angled toward the defensive right side to stop UW's Markelle Fultz, who was bringing up the ball.
Picking up Fultz, the Pac-12's leading scorer who finished with a career-best 37 points, obviously seemed prudent. But Crisp was so wide open Fultz delivered the ball when he reached midcourt, and when Crisp launched his wide-open jumper the Buffs had three players —Johnson, Tory Miller, and George King — bunched in the low paint.
Just six seconds after Johnson's blue collar work under the glass gave the Buffs a possible game-winning score, the stage was set for an 0-2 road trip.
"We were supposed to be in a zone. But guys don't have squatting rights on spots in the zone," Boyle said. "After a made basket we've got to load to the ball in our transition defense in zone just like we do in man. We had guys running to spots where they thought had to be. Well guess what? Nobody's guarding Crisp.
"We've got that low block guarded really, really well. We've got the opposite wing guarded unbelievably well. Well guess what? We don't have the ball guarded. Transition defense in zone, the philosophies are no different than they are against man. Everybody knew what defense we were in. But we didn't execute in transition after a made basket. Ball game. We had it won."