Before this week, the Colorado men’s basketball team had not enjoyed a single game this season in which four players recorded at least three assists.
After a second-half surge that gave the Buffaloes a 78-67 win against USC in the regular-season finale Saturday, CU has achieved that commendable ball-sharing feat in consecutive games.
The Buffs completed an 8-2 finish to the league slate and earned the No. 5 seed at the Pac-12 tournament, and two statistics in particular highlight exemplify the efficient brand of basketball the team has played over the past six weeks.
Turnovers are down. Assists are up. And because of that, the Buffs are on a roll.
“That’s a testament to our love of one another. We love each other so much that we pass the ball to each other,” said redshirt freshman Evan Battey, who scored a season-high 21 points. “We want to see each other succeed. It’s sharing the ball out of love, and as we keep progressing this season we’re going to get more of that.”
Against USC, D’Shawn Schwartz matched a career-high with four assists, while Battey, McKinley Wright, and Shane Gatling recorded three apiece. More importantly, the Buffs finished with a season-low eight turnovers. Battey has recorded seven assists with just one turnover in the past two games.
Turnovers were a plague of the Buffs throughout the first half of the season, and those giveaways have been an ongoing issue for CU in recent seasons. Going into this year, head coach Tad Boyle attempted to address this issue by having VersaClimber exercise machines at practice, with those guilty of turnovers sent to do punitive climbing repetitions.
After committing a total of 31 turnovers in the first two Pac-12 games in Arizona in January, Boyle abandoned that project and jettisoned the climbers from practice. His team, however, didn’t abandon its attempt at improving its turnover issues. CU has put together just four single-digit turnover games this season, yet three of them have occurred in the past three games.
In 14 games with the VersaClimbers on hand at the Buffs’ practices, CU averaged 14.3 turnovers per game. In the 16 since, the Buffs have averaged 12.1.
“Playing together. Not caring who scores. Our best player is the guy who’s open,” Boyle said. “It’s the second game in a row we’ve had a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. You’ll take that every game. Our goal is 1.4-to-one, and we’ve had two-to-one in back-to-back games. I love guys sharing the ball.”
These days, any CU-USC basketball matchup wouldn’t be complete without one exchange of emotion. On Saturday, it occurred late in the second half as the Buffs were pulling away. During a timeout, the Trojans’ Nick Rakocevic lingered near the Buffs’ end of the floor and exchanged words with CU point guard McKinley Wright.
“Just emotion from both sides,” Wright said. “He said something. I said something back. We’re past that now. We’re just happy we got the win. That’s all that matters. All that cheap stuff isn’t who we are.”
The flop’s fault
USC coach Andy Enfield offered an interesting excuse for the foul trouble that limited his two best players, Rakocevic and Bennie Boatwright. The duo entered the game averaging a combined 36 points, but Boatwright managed just nine points with three turnovers in 22 minutes.
“There’s some flopping going on, it’s tough,” Enfield said. “They allow all that contact, their bigs got to our guys on the post. They had their bodies on our bigs all night and then they call some cheap flops. It’s hard on our guys because it threw our guys on the bench.
“I think there were a couple of flops that we called. A foul is a foul, but it’s hard when your two leading scorers have to go to the bench.”
Saturday’s attendance at the CU Events Center of 9,379 was the best of the season, topping the 8,654 that watched CU defeat Oregon on Feb. 2. That left CU with an average attendance of 7,185 for 15 home dates. That mark is the lowest of Boyle’s nine seasons at CU and down slightly from last year’s average of 7,449.