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CU Buffs seek return of the efficient offense erased by late Oregon State rally

Before final seven minutes against Beavers, Buffs had been playing best ball of season

BOULDER, CO – JANUARY 5, 2020: Colorado’s Tad Boyle watches the clock tick away in the loss to Oregon State during the game in Boulder on January 5, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The last impression always lingers the longest. And for the Colorado Buffaloes, their most recent impression no doubt was an ugly one.

The late collapse that saw the Buffs squander an 11-point lead over the final seven-plus minutes on Sunday, leading to an eight-point defeat against Oregon State, was as frustrating for the Buffs and their fans as it was out of character for CU, at least over the past few weeks.

Going into the Oregon State game — and really, until that late collapse — the Buffs had been playing their most efficient basketball of the season and looked very much like a top 25 team. Balancing that late disappointment and the many coaching points it unearthed against the fact his club still is just seven-plus minutes removed from its best basketball of the season has been one of the challenges for head coach Tad Boyle this week as the 25th-ranked Buffs prepare for Sunday’s visit from Utah (4 p.m., ESPNU).

“You address your problems. But then you also talk about the fact that, hey, we were playing very, very well for those first 33 minutes,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to build on that and gain confidence from that, and we’ve got to learn from the last seven. Shoot, Utah, who knows, they might come out in a 1-3-1 (zone). If they do, we’ve got to be ready for it. We’ve got to handle it better than we handled it the last seven minutes (against Oregon State).”

If the Buffs can successfully shake off the collapse against Oregon State and return to the brand of basketball they had played for weeks up to that point, their place among the contenders in the Pac-12 Conference likely will remain secure.

CU shot .491 against Oregon State and, if one shifts a fraction ever so slightly on the .439 mark the Buffs posted three days earlier against Oregon, they go into the Utah contest having shot at least 44 percent in three consecutive games for the first time this season.

Part of the turnaround can be attributed to better ball security. Despite committing 15 turnovers against Oregon State, including five during the Beavers’ 24-5 game-closing run, CU still has averaged just 12 turnovers over the past four games after averaging 15.5 through the season’s first 11 games. CU also has displayed better ball movement, posting three of the top five assist totals of the season in the three games leading up to the loss against OSU.

“McKinley (Wright IV), it kind of starts with him. He’s really been in a great distribution mode, looking to get his teammates involved,” Boyle said. “We’ve gotten the ball moved and we’ve played inside-out. We want to get Tyler and Evan and even Lucas at times post touches. I think we’ve been able to do that. I think we’ve gotten the ball in the paint and then getting the ball kicked back out for threes or getting to the rim. I think we’ve been taking better shots as well. So, a combination of things.”

Still, when the ball is tipped off Sunday afternoon, the Buffs will be trying to shake off the disastrous finish against Oregon State instead of leaning on a recent run of efficient play that was largely forgotten after the collapse against the Beavers.

“Basketball is a game of runs. (OSU) just went on a run the last seven minutes of the game,” CU senior guard Shane Gatling said. “We’ve just got to play like ourselves for 40 minutes. We can’t let them go on a run, especially that late in the game where we’re not even scoring at the same time they’re scoring. We’ve just got to play 40 minutes, play as a team, and we’ve got to play like it’s our last. We can’t afford those games we’re supposed to win that we end up losing. We’ve got to prevent that from happening the rest of the year.”