Obviously, a mere two games does not a season make.
Still, when you are the only new starter on a nationally-ranked team harboring NCAA Tournament aspirations — and a local recruit on top of that — being a little tense might be understandable.
For sophomore Daylen Kountz, those factors may have played a role in his struggles during the first two games of the season for the Colorado men’s basketball team. Yet after a pep talk from head coach Tad Boyle, Kountz bounced back with a solid outing in Monday’s win against UC Irvine. Kountz and the 23rd-ranked Buffs will seek more of the same when they take on Wyoming Sunday evening in Las Vegas (6 p.m. MT, ESPN3).
“He was telling me to make sure I’m hanging my hat on defense. Make sure I’m continuing to be aggressive and the rest will fall into place,” Kountz said. “I wouldn’t say I was doing too much. I was missing some stuff. That’s normal. It wasn’t my night and things weren’t going in. Can’t get too frustrated about it.”
After an impressive finish to his freshman season, it was Kountz who won the offseason/preseason derby for the starting two-guard spot in a crowded field that included senior Shane Gatling, sophomore Eli Parquet, and junior college transfer Maddox Daniels. Yet through the first two games Kountz was the least productive player of the bunch.
In the opening win against Arizona State in China, Kountz went 1-for-7 with no assists, no rebounds, and two turnovers in 29 minutes. Against San Diego Kountz went 0-for-5 with two more turnovers, though he did pick up two rebounds and an assist in 16 minutes. Kountz had not gone scoreless since a 13-minute outing in a low-scoring game at USC on Feb. 9.
Yet Boyle stuck with the Denver East graduate against UC Irvine, and Kountz started to come out of his early-season shell. Asked this week if perhaps Kountz was pressing in the face of his expanded, more integral role, Boyle said that could have played a factor.
“I thought against Arizona State, Daylen got the ball to the rim, he just didn’t finish. He got good looks,” Boyle said. “When you get good looks at the rim and you don’t finish it’s frustrating. But he might have been pressing a little bit. I think the biggest thing I’ve tried to preach with him and every one of our players is be aggressive and take good shots.”
Kountz knocked down his first 3-point attempt against UC Irvine on Monday and it seemingly settled him into his game. He played a key role in the Buffs’ dogged defensive effort, finishing with a career-best three steals, and he finished with seven points and no turnovers in 17 and a half minutes.
“I think I’ve made a lot of strides on defense, keeping the ball in front a lot, rotating. I think I got a lot better in those areas,” Kountz said. “Trying to be more competitive on D every time trying to shut someone down and make sure they’re not scoring. This year we’re a lot deeper and we’ve got a lot of weapons. Coach is stressing each time we go out to make sure we leave it out and we’re not saving our energy.”