Shane Gatling hasn’t broken loose yet from 3-point range. Yet for the first time during his Colorado Buffaloes career, Gatling is earning the trust of head coach Tad Boyle as a defensive asset.
Not long after the No. 21-ranked Buffs completed an energetic comeback against Clemson Tuesday night in Las Vegas, Boyle lauded Gatling’s defensive work during a second half in which the Buffs’ used their stellar defense to erase a 12-point Tigers lead.
Gatling played 13 of his 22 minutes after the break but scored only three points during that span. During his first season with the Buffs a year ago, Gatling probably wouldn’t have been on the floor at crunch time of a close game unless he was carrying a particularly hot hand from long range. That hasn’t been the case so far this season.
“He was engaged. He played with energy. He was dialed-in,” Boyle said. “Watching a guy like Shane Gatling, and watching a guy like Tyler Bey, you can tell right away watching them for 10 seconds on a defensive possession whether they’re dialed-in or not. McKinley almost always is. Evan almost always is. D’Shawn almost always is. But some of those guys, sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. So when they are, it’s like, wow, that’s the guy we want.
“Now the challenge is, can you be that way every possession? Become that consistent with your energy and your awareness when you’re locked in on defense. When (Gatling) is, he’s pretty good. When he’s not, he’s average to below average.”
Gatling said he focused on defense throughout the season in one-on-one pickup battles against teammates with varied skill-sets, from McKinley Wright and D’Shawn Schwartz to Tyler Bey and even Evan Battey. He finished just 2-for-5 overall against Clemson and 1-for-4 on 3-pointers, though that lone connection from long range was a big one during a game-changing 16-3 CU run that cut a Tigers’ lead that had been 12 points down to five.
Gatling goes into Saturday night’s home date against Sacramento State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) boasting a 5-for-15 mark from 3-point range — still not where the senior would prefer, but nonetheless slightly better than the .319 mark he posted last year.
“In the Clemson game, coach trusted me enough to keep me in to close out the game and come up with defensive stops,” Gatling said. “I guarded one of their best shooters, and for him to not get a shot up, it make me feel good inside and also makes me feel good that coach trusts me to close a game. We were down 12 with seven or eight minutes left or whatever it was, and he trusted me to close the game. To prove to him I could get stops on the defensive end, it means a lot to me.”
Looking at CU’s schedule at the outset of the season, the first few weeks certainly appeared demanding. An opening trip to China to take on a familiar and solid foe in Arizona State. Home dates against San Diego, which had defeated the Buffs the past two years, and UC Irvine, which won a game in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. And a showcase event in Las Vegas, where the Buffs encountered a fired-up regional rival in Wyoming and a solid ACC program in Clemson.
While Boyle would never say there is any breather on the schedule, the matchup against Sacramento State seemingly presented an opportunity for Boyle to empty his bench during the game’s latter stages. That still might turn out to be the case, but the Hornets arrive in Boulder with an undefeated mark and with the look of a team that should be in the mix in the Big Sky Conference race.
“I look at Sac State, and I thought when we scheduled them they might be one of the weaker opponents, and I wasn’t sure where they’re strength of schedule would be,” Boyle said. “But now they’re 4-0 and I think they’re going to be a good Big Sky team. If we’re fortunate enough to win the game, that’s going to be a good game for us.
“If we don’t have our chin straps on we’re going to get our helmets knocked off. We can’t let that happen. If Stephen F. Austin can go into Duke and win, Sac State can come into Boulder and win. Let’s make sure we’re not taking anybody lightly.”
The Buffs defeated Sacramento State three years ago at home in the opener of the 2016-17 season. That game marked the CU Buffs debut of eventual NBA first-round pick Derrick White, who went 3-for-5 with nine points, four assists, and no turnovers in 21 minutes…CU is forcing an average of 17.8 turnovers per game… After going 0-for-4 on 3-pointers in the season opening win against Arizona State, Tyler Bey has gone 3-for-5 on 3s in the four games since…Sacramento State’s Joshua Patton needs just one blocked shot to match the program’s all-time record of 151…Tuesday’s win against Clemson was Boyle’s 250th as a Division I head coach. His 194 wins at CU ranks second all-time in program history, and he also posted 56 wins in four seasons at Northern Colorado.