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Hot start has CU Buffs’ Lucas Siewert targeted by opposing defenses

Colorado's Lucas Siewert, left, has made 16 of 29 attempts so far from beyond the 3-point arc and is shooting .552 overall for the Buffs. CU heads to Hawaii this week for the Diamond Head Classic.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Lucas Siewert, left, has made 16 of 29 attempts so far from beyond the 3-point arc and is shooting .552 overall for the Buffs. CU heads to Hawaii this week for the Diamond Head Classic.

The word is getting out about Lucas Siewert.

Two games ago, in a Dec. 8 home win against Illinois-Chicago, the junior forward suddenly found himself the center of the attention of the Flames’ defense. UIC was well aware of the torrid shooting performances Siewert put together over the opening portion of the schedule. For one of the few times in his basketball career at the University of Colorado, Siewert clearly was the focus of the opposition’s defensive scouting report.

Siewert had to adjust. He committed three early turnovers before settling in, and he again found extra defenders running his way last week at New Mexico while fending off foul trouble to help the Buffaloes rally in the second half.

As the Buffs prepare for the Diamond Head Classic later this week in Hawaii and the beginning of Pac-12 play afterward, Siewert understands it’s his turn to adjust to the extra attention.

“I’ve definitely noticed that when I catch the ball in the post, they’re doubling,” Siewert said. “The past three teams have done it. They’ve been switching on ball-screens with me. I’ve definitely seen some adjustments on their defensive end.

“I’ve just got to find a way to still help this team when they take me out, whether that be rebounding, offensive rebounding, or getting to the free throw line. Stuff like that. But still trying to find the shots that I’m used to making. I think McKinley (Wright) does a great job of finding me in the right spots.”

At the mid-point of last season, the idea the Buffs’ opponents would start tailoring defenses specifically to slow Siewert was implausible.

After averaging 2.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in an average of 11.5 minutes as a freshman in 2016-17, Siewert was looked as if his sophomore season would offer no further reason for optimism after three straight scoreless games in January, beginning at home in an upset win against Arizona and continuing during a split on the road at USC and UCLA.

Siewert attempted just three shots overall in those three games while grabbing only two rebounds, and the scoreless outings left him with averages of 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds through 15 games. Yet upon returning home and posting 11 points and four rebounds against Washington State, the second half of last season was a different story for Siewert.

Siewert posted nine double-digit scoring performances over the final 14 games, including the last five in a row. Over those 14 games Siewert averaged 10.3 points and 3.6 rebounds. He has been able to continue that momentum despite off-season surgery on his right ankle that can be traced back to an injury early last season — a setback that lingered after Siewert accelerated his return after a season-ending injury to forward Tory Miller-Stewart that occurred days later.

“After my surgery, I went home (to Brazil) and was just working a lot when I was home on my ankle,” Siewert said. “Since I couldn’t do much with basketball, I was working on my body a lot. Once I got here over the summer I worked every day outside of practice, and took the momentum I had going from last year.”

A common criticism of the Tad Boyle-era Buffs is the program’s checkered results in developing big men. It’s arguable none have made as great of strides as Siewert in two-plus seasons in Boulder.

As the Buffs continue preparations for the Diamond Head Classic, which begins with a Saturday matchup against Indiana State (1 p.m. MT, ESPNU), Siewert is shooting an even 60 percent from the floor with a .552 mark on 3-pointers (16-for-29). He posted the first two double-doubles of his career in consecutive wins against Portland and Colorado State, and an improved edge while playing inside has helped produce season-averages of 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds.

Siewert entered the season averaging 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds over his first two seasons.

“Naturally, he’s getting older. And he’s working on it and putting in a lot of time,” CU associate head coach Mike Rohn said. “He’s always had some pretty good low-post moves, but he likes to shoot and he’s really good at shooting. So he’s finding that balance, which is a hard thing. You don’t find a lot of guys anymore that have the balance of being a really good around-the-basket scorer and be able to shoot threes. It’s kind of like you’re either-or.

“He had a great offseason. (Strength coach) Steve Englehart has really helped with his strength. It’s given him confidence to go down in there and take contact.”

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