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Getting offense on par with elite defense this week’s challenge for CU Buffs basketball

Buffs coming off 19-turnover, 10-assist showing against Sacramento State

BOULDER, CO – November 30, 2019: Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz drives on Sacramento State’s Joshua Patton during second half of the November 30, 2019 NCAA men’s basketball game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

For a coach who has preached defense and rebounding with fervent passion pretty much from the moment he first set foot on campus nearly 10 full years ago, Tad Boyle spent a lot of time late Saturday night discussing his team’s offense.

The 21st-ranked Colorado men’s basketball team had just held off Sacramento State for an ugly 59-45 win at the CU Events Center, a victory that improved the Buffaloes to 6-0 for only the third time in the past 30 years but also further raised alarms about the team’s offensive efficiency.

On one hand, the Buffs are doing exactly what Boyle has always envisioned with his program by dominating on the glass and putting the shackles on opposing offenses. However, with the competition soon to ratchet up several notches — after Wednesday’s home date against Loyola Marymount (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network), CU travels to No. 4 Kansas for a much-anticipated showdown Saturday night — the Buffs are running out of time to get their offense up to the lofty standard set by their defense.

Boyle believes the scouting report has been revealed on how to keep his club off the scoreboard: Stop the Buffs from pushing the pace, and you stop the Buffs from piling up points.

“That’s the MO — make Colorado play in the half-court and they have trouble scoring,” Boyle said. “Right now that’s the case and everybody knows it. So, we’d better get better at our half-court offense and it’s something we’ve got to continue to work on in practice. And we will. And 19 turnovers (against Sacramento State) is the number that we’ve got to get rid of. Ten assists, it’s got to be flipped. Nineteen assists, 10 turnovers. Right now we’ve got it backwards. To a man, you’d better take care of your turnovers. You’re not going to play perfect, I get that, but footwork turnovers, bad passing, not catching, sloppiness — we’ve got to get tougher.”

The past three games in particular have shown a CU offense that stumbles out of the blocks, a shortcoming the Buffs were able to get away with against Wyoming, Clemson, and Sacramento State but surely will be unable to against Kansas, as well as Dayton and the top clubs in the Pac-12 Conference down the road.

Against Wyoming the Buffs shot just .231 (6-for-26) in the first half while committing seven of the team’s 13 turnovers. CU shot 50 percent in the second half before pulling away.

CU committed seven of its 12 turnovers against Clemson in the first half. And during Saturday’s win against Sacramento State, the Buffs committed turnovers on their first three possessions before finishing with a season-high 19.

The shortcomings have been a team effort. Despite a five-assist, three-turnover game against Clemson, point guard McKinley Wright still has posted just six assists against seven turnovers in the past three games. D’Shawn Schwartz committed three turnovers within the first 6 minutes, 9 seconds of the win against Wyoming. Against Sacramento State, five different players accounted for CU’s first five turnovers, all within the game’s first 8:23.

The numbers certainly reflect CU’s disparity. Through Sunday, the Buffs ranked ninth nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency but only 74th in adjusted offensive efficiency. The good news is the Buffs are 6-0 and playing elite defense. And while the offensive woes clearly are correctable, the Buffs will be challenged in the next few days to play their way out of their funk.

“There’s no excuse for the way we played (against Sacramento State),” Wright said. “We’ve got to get back to the drawing board. We won, so that’s really all that matters. But we’ve got to get back to the drawing board, get back to practice on Monday and prepare for Loyola Marymount on Wednesday and come out with a better performance.”