It's no secret Tad Boyle loves to preach defense. This past week even his boss, athletic director Rick George, joined that chorus, espousing his belief that defense wins championships as he introduced new football coach Mel Tucker.
In general, Boyle's club has played an impressive brand of basketball through its 7-1 start. But, while in years past, the Buffs often survived on the strength of their defense, these days the offense is carrying the load while the defense struggles.
It has been good enough so far, but Boyle realizes allowing opponents to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor, as the Buffs have in two of the past three games, is an unsustainable equation.
"What our players have to do is have more individual pride defensively when they are guarding the ball," Boyle said. "Certainly gap-help is a part of it. But if I can lock a guy up one-on-one and keep him out of the lane and guard my yard and play with my arms out so we're not getting hand-check calls, we don't need gap-help.
"Really it comes down to, me as a player, taking pride in whoever I'm guarding. I'm going to find my distance to keep him in front of me and make him make tough shots in the lane. And not let him get by me to the rim. And, certainly, not have my hands down and shoot a three in my face."
Until last week's win against Colorado State, the Buffs had lost nine consecutive games when the opposition went at least 50 percent from the field. CU has managed to win two such games over its past three contests, defeating the Rams despite CSU's .517 mark from the field, and topping Illinois-Chicago on Saturday despite the Flames hovering around 60 percent for much of the game before finishing at .566.
More alarming for the Buffs might be how those two squads compiled those numbers in different manners. CSU went 10-for-23 on 3-pointers, while UIC was able to get to the rim at will for easy looks inside.
Afterward, Boyle, as well as assistant coach Bill Grier, made a point of lecturing the Buffs about the lack of gap-help they provided against the well-spaced offense of the Flames.
"(Grier) made a really good point after the game — when one guy has the ball, the other four guys have to jump to the ball and be in the gap," CU guard McKinley Wright said. "A lot of times (Saturday) we were getting iso-driving and we didn't have a lot of help behind us. We've got to do a better job of helping each other out and having each other's back. We didn't showcase that (Saturday), but down the stretch we'll be better and we'll watch film and we'll get better at it."
Through Saturday's games around the Pac-12 Conference, the Buffs ranked 10th in the league with a defensive field goal percentage of .430. They tied for second in the league last year at .423 and actually led the Pac-12 in league games at .422. At this stage of the season, the Buffs aren't terribly far off that pace, but collectively know the defense must improve as a stretch of 9 of 11 games away from home begins Tuesday at New Mexico (7 p.m., ESPN2).
"We are not where we need to be defensively," Boyle said. "It's a concern of mine as we head into this stretch. We've shown it in flashes. We just haven't shown it on a consistent basis against quality teams."