Tad Boyle believes the problem is correctable. But at the very least, it will require far more discipline out of his Colorado men’s basketball team. And the Buffaloes will have to play much smarter than they’ve shown during their three losses in four games to start Pac-12 Conference play.
One setback that has been a common thread through all three of those losses has been the inability of some of the Buffs’ key players to stay out of foul trouble. With the availability of guards McKinley Wright (shoulder) and Namon Wright (foot) unclear due to injuries, that will need to change if the Buffs hope to start gaining traction in the Pac-12 race on the road in the coming weeks, beginning Sunday at Utah (4 p.m. MT, ESPNU).
“What it reflects is the fact I think we have to be more disciplined defensively, because we have to be in better position,” Boyle said. “We have to play smarter. I think we have to anticipate rotations. We had a couple of fouls just out of rotations the other night against Washington because we weren’t anticipating the rotations before they happen.
“It’s a lot of different things. I can’t point to one thing, and I can’t point to one person either. We’re all guilty of it. But playing smart is the key.”
In each of the Buffs’ three Pac-12 losses so far, they limped to the finish line with key players struggling to get into rhythm due to foul issues.
At Arizona on Jan. 3, junior forward Lucas Siewert picked up his second foul just 3 minutes, 35 seconds into the game, while sophomore forward Tyler Bey followed him to the bench about seven minutes later.
Other than the academically ineligible Deleon Brown, the Buffs’ rotation was at full capacity for that Arizona game, but that changed when Namon Wright missed the first of three consecutive games (and counting) due to a foot injury two days later at Arizona State. Without a key backcourt player, sophomore guard D’Shawn Schwartz made a bad situation worse by getting his second foul just 78 seconds into the game and getting his third just 61 seconds into the second half. Bey also struggled again, getting his second foul less than 10 minutes into the first half.
While the Buffs were able to avoid that foul rut in a home rout of Washington State last week, it returned during Saturday’s loss against Washington. Forward Evan Battey picked up two fouls early in the first half, and he received his third and fourth fouls within a 14-second span early in the second half. Battey and Siewert eventually fouled out late when the game remained close, and with McKinley Wright going down with a shoulder injury early in that game, the Buffs were down to six scholarship players available in the final minutes against the Huskies.
The foul issue hasn’t been any less exclusive to particular players as it has been to particular referee crews — in each of those three league losses that featured foul trouble from the Buffs, CU actually shot more free throws than the opposition.
“It’s something the coaches have talked a lot about. Most of the fouls we’re getting is because we’re not in the right position,” Siewert said. “If we just focus on our defensive principles and being there in the first place, we can avoid some of the fouls that we’re getting that’s causing the foul trouble. I definitely think some of them are avoidable.”
Boyle hinted that with both of the Wrights still questionable for Sunday’s game, the Buffs have spent the early portion of this elongated week of practice experimenting with different lineup combinations.
“There’s no doubt it hamstrings you as a coach,” Boyle said. “What we’ve looked at this week and worked on this week certainly is playing with a big lineup. Alex Strating gets in the mix. If Namon can’t go or McKinley can’t go, Eli (Parquet) gets thrown in the mix. That’s still nine guys, but if we have foul trouble with nine guys and it’s a big, we may have to look at playing three bigs together. If it’s foul trouble on the perimeter, we may have to play three bigs together.
“We’re looking at different lineup combinations. It’s good that we have this week, and still three practices to go, to figure those things out.”