While his 3-point shot has run hot and cold throughout the entire season, Shane Gatling has brought other aspects of his game to the table a little more consistently for the Colorado Buffaloes.
That particularly has been true since the beginning of February, as the Buffs have reeled off a run of 11 wins in 14 games heading into Monday night's final home game against Norfolk State in the second round of the NIT (7 p.m., ESPN2). However, Gatling found himself on the bench more than usual during the Buffs' first-round win against Dayton, with head coach Tad Boyle citing a poor night defensively as the catalyst for Gatling's extra pine time.
"Sometimes you take a couple steps backwards as a player, and that was a step backwards for him. Because Shane has really become a really good defender here down the stretch. He was good in Las Vegas," Boyle said. "He's had some matchups where we've challenged him, and he's risen to the challenge. But the other night against Dayton, it was more that he got his head down.
"My thing is it's all about competing. He has to compete on defense, and he wasn't competing the other night, I didn't think. I talked about it with Shane. He knows why he didn't play. He knows the situation. So hopefully he'll come out and do something about it."
While Dayton rolled offensively — the Flyers shot .545 against the Buffs, the sixth opponent this season to top 50 percent against CU — Gatling struggled, with the junior guard finishing 1-for-6 overall and 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He played just 22 minutes, his second-lowest total over the past 20 games.
Prior to the Dayton game, Gatling had recorded at least one steal in eight consecutive games, collecting 13 total during that span. Gatling also had recorded 20 assists against 14 turnovers in the previous nine games, but he goes into Monday's date against Norfolk State with no assists and four turnovers in the past two games.
"I'm very confident in myself. I've been working on my defense all year long, so I'm not worried about it," Gatling said. "I've just got to do better next game and forget what happened last game."
Gatling has the distinction of being the only CU player who has previously competed against Norfolk State. Two years ago, when Gatling was a freshman at Niagara, he started an early-season matchup against the Spartans, recording five points and three assists without a turnover in 22 minutes. Gatling doesn't recall the particulars of that matchup, but his experience at Niagara has Gatling attuned to the extra motivation programs like Norfolk State take into matchups against power-conference foes, an intangible that helped the Spartans produce a first-round win at Alabama.
"I remember when I was at Niagara we played against Rutgers in the Big Ten, and we wanted to show that we could hang with them, that we could beat them," Gatling said. "Unfortunately we didn't, but I feel like that's how Norfolk State feels right now. Especially coming off the win at Alabama. They think if they can beat Alabama, they can beat us also."