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While he was expected to deliver more this season, the glass-half-full outlook on the loss of 7-footer Dallas Walton is that the Colorado basketball team only has to replace the 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game Walton contributed a year ago.
Certainly that oversimplifies the dynamic the Buffaloes lost when Walton went down with a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 16, particularly at the defensive end of the floor. Without Walton, the Buffs will play the 2018-19 season without their top shot-blocker, and a bigger burden will be placed on forwards Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey and Tyler Bey to lead CU’s interior defense.
“Our post defensive philosophy is they can’t score it down there if they don’t catch it down there,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We’re not going to eliminate catches on the post, but we have to limit them. Especially against a good low-post player, we’ve got to front the post and make them catch it further away from the basket.
“The philosophy was the same with Dallas. The difference was Dallas could play behind a guy because he’s 7-foot tall and can contest shots. Our interior defense is going to be an issue for our team. But we switch a lot on ball screens, so a lot of times it might be our point guard down there guarding the post. Same mentality — they can’t score it if they can’t catch it.”
Walton led the Buffs with 34 blocked shots a year ago, but his defensive impact often was difficult to discern with a quick glance at any box score. In Pac-12 Conference games last year, CU posted a league-best defensive field goal percentage of .422. Given the Buffs finished in a tie for sixth in defensive 3-point percentage (.357), much of the legwork for that league-leading overall total can be credited to Walton’s ability to alter shots in the paint.
“We’ve got to play a lot better defense on the perimeter, because we don’t have a shot-blocker sitting there waiting for the ball to come to him,” sophomore forward Tyler Bey said. “People were scared to come to Dallas, so that’s going to change something. I think if we just do our job — like jumping to the ball, being in help — we’ll be okay.”
When the Buffs open the season at home Tuesday night against Drake (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network) Bey, Siewert and Battey will form a three-man post rotation that will lack the same depth without Walton. At 6-foot-7 the athletic Bey will be undersized against some of the bigger post players in the Pac-12, though his leaping ability will negate any size disadvantage against some post foes. Battey, a 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman, is somewhat of an unknown quantity on defense, while the 6-10 Siewert looks to build on a strong finish last season.
Without Walton, that trio also will be charged with avoiding foul trouble.
“Now that Dallas is out, we’ve got to really focus on not getting in foul trouble early,” Siewert said. “That can put a lot of pressure on our bigs. But we work on post defense a lot. We work on those situations, even with the guards for when they’re down there. We’re getting ready to have a really good defensive season.”