TEMPE, Ariz. — If there is a silver lining for the reeling Colorado men’s basketball team, it’s that the Buffaloes are returning home.
Thursday’s initial Pac-12 Conference date at the CU Events Center against Washington State will be the first time the Buffs have played at home since a Dec. 8 win against Illinois-Chicago. After picking up a road win at New Mexico a three days later, the Buffs were 8-1, averaging 84.3 points and shooting an impressive .486 from the field.
What a difference a month can make. Despite that win at The Pit in New Mexico, the Buffs’ longest road swing since 1986 has not been a kind one, a run futility capped by Arizona State’s 83-61 rout of the Buffaloes Saturday afternoon.
With three more road games in a row awaiting CU after games this week against WSU and Washington, the home cooking better settle well for coach Tad Boyle’s club. Asked after Saturday’s loss if his club is battling a collective confidence issue, CU’s leader said he believed the matter is less about confidence than allowing the negative momentum swings to continue snowballing.
“I like the way we’re practicing. I like our demeanor,” Boyle said. “I don’t feel like (it’s confidence), but when you see guys’ heads go down when they miss shots, that’s when mental toughness has to take hold. When you miss open shots and you’re struggling offensively, you can’t let it affect you on the other end of the floor. That’s easier said than done. Guys want to shoot the ball well. They’re frustrated when they miss open shots.”
The Buffs also will have to address the manpower issues suddenly afflicting the team, a matter that has been compounded by early foul trouble of late to key players — particularly sophomore forward Tyler Bey.
In Thursday’s loss at Arizona, second-leading scorer Lucas Siewert picked up his second foul just 3 minutes, 35 seconds into the game. Bey followed suit at the 9:23 mark of the first half, and it was more of the same for the Buffs at Arizona State. Starting guard D’Shawn Schwartz went to the bench with his second foul just 78 seconds into the game, while Bey once again followed suit at the 10:27 mark. Bey and Schwartz proceeded to pick up their third fouls less than 3:30 into the second half.
The extra pine time for Bey led to the arguably the least-productive back-to-back games of the season for the Buffs’ top rebounder and rim protector, with Bey going 5-for-17 in the two games in Arizona. He did record his seventh double-digit rebounding game of the season at Arizona with 11, but his extended absence at ASU was a key reason why the Sun Devils were able to outrebound CU 42-28.
CU began the trip without guard Deleon Brown, who is out indefinitely due to academic issues, and also played Saturday without Namon Wright, who aggravated a foot injury in Thursday’s loss at Arizona.
“It’s hampering us a lot,” Boyle said. “Tyler had limited minutes in the first half of both games and he’s our best rebounder. It’s really been difficult for us.”
One of the many facets of the game the Buffs are struggling with most likely to be corrected by a return home is the team’s wayward 3-point touch. Saturday’s 5-for-26 mark at ASU gave the Buffs a .262 mark (32-for-122) in the six games since they last played at home.
“We’re still a confident team,” point guard McKinley Wright said. “It’s just two games (in Arizona). We can’t let these two games define who we are. I think we’re capable still of becoming the Pac-12 champions. We’ve got to be better, obviously. We’re going to get better this week through our practice.
“We just couldn’t get some of our shots to fall (at ASU). We had a lot of open threes in the first half, we just weren’t able to hit them. We’ll be ready for next week.”
Pat Rooney: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/prooney07