Tasked with staking the team to a good start in its quest to end an 0-7 slide to begin Pac-12 Conference play, the reserves that comprised Colorado’s starting lineup Thursday against Oregon State responded with an enthusiasm and energy that proved infectious.
Yet there is a flip side to the gamble coach Tad Boyle employed in an 85-78 victory against the Beavers. With three seniors — Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson, and Derrick White — having started every previous game, and junior George King starting in 19 of 20, alienating a core the Buffaloes still will have to depend on down the stretch was a very real possibility.
For the most part, though, the veterans accepted and excelled in their sudden bench roles, with King topping 20 points for the first time this season with a team-leading 24. King posted eight 20-point games during his breakout season a year ago.
“He started the guys who don’t usually start and it got them going,” King said. “I can’t speak for XJ and the other guys but I was like, ‘Man, this is how we need to come out.’ We’re the ones that coach allowed to start to this point, and they’re coming out with all this energy, getting the crowd into it. Going forward, we need to do that for sure.”
King’s 4-for-8 mark on 3-pointers continued a shooting resurgence for last year’s Pac-12 leader in 3-point percentage, with King now boasting a 15-for-26 mark from long range over the past five games.
Johnson also fared well in his first appearance this season off the bench, going 4-for-7 with 10 points. White, CU’s leading scorer, tallied only five points and went an uncharacteristic 3-for-7 at the free throw line, but he still contributed three rebounds and two assists without a turnover in 29 minutes.
“George and XJ and Derrick, I thought they handled it very, very well and came in with great energy and great focus,” Boyle said. “I told them what was going on (Wednesday). Our practices have been competitive. They’ve been spirited. They handled it well. I thought the guys that started and had their opportunity handled it well.”
Conspicuously absent from Boyle’s review of his veterans was Gordon. In 15 minutes the senior forward went scoreless while compiling one rebound, two assists, and two turnovers. For just the third time this year reserve forward Tory Miller, who made his first start of the year and the sixth of his career, played more minutes than Gordon, and in those two previous games (Sacramento State, Utah) Miller’s minutes were padded during garbage time.
Miller went 3-for-4 from the floor and finished with six points and five rebounds. He has shot 22-for-34 (.647) in Pac-12 play.
King turned in one of the more memorable individual highlights in what so far has been a forgettable CU season, taking advantage of an Oregon State turnover near the baseline to throw down a thunderous dunk late in the first half.
King slammed in the face of Oregon State’s Ben Kone, who also was called for a foul. King completed the 3-point play.
“We got a turnover and I’m an athletic dude,” King said. “It was just unfortunate for (Kone).”
White’s 3-for-7 mark on free throws occurred after going a perfect 13-for-13 in the previous two games and 23-for-25 in the previous four…CU was outrebounded for the first time in Pac-12 play. Oregon State entered the game ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in average rebounding margin (minus-1.7)…Freshman Lucas Siewert was 2-for-16 on 3-pointers since going 3-for-3 in the season opener. In his first career start Siewert ended that slide by knocking down his only long-range attempt early against Oregon State…CU has scored at least 80 points in three consecutive conference games for the first time since 2006…With the Buffs’ usual starters coming off the bench, CU enjoyed a 52-4 advantage in points off the bench…In 107 collegiate games previously at CU and UCCS, Thursday’s game marked the first time White ever came off the bench.