After the Colorado Buffaloes had their first two home games, both Pac-12 Conference dates, postponed two weeks ago, the Buffs had to weather a lull in the schedule uncharacteristic of early-season college basketball.
This, of course, hardly is a normal season, and part of that hiatus was due to CU’s own 48-hour shutdown two weeks ago. Yet when the Buffs hit the floor for what turned into an easy win against Northern Colorado on Monday, the Buffs had played just one game over the previous 16 days.
The lull wasn’t at all a waste of time for the Buffs, who were able to get healthy from their early coronavirus issues while completing their first semester finals. Still, the Buffs will go from playing one game a two-plus week span to playing two games in less than 48 hours when they tip-off against Omaha on Wednesday afternoon at the CU Events Center.
“The players love it. They know they only have to practice once (on Tuesday) before they play, and they know it’s not going to be a hard, grueling practice,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “I do think we got better, even though we were in finals. Finals is always a tricky time as a coach, and your players, because they’ve got a lot of stress and they’ve got a lot of time away from the court when they’re obviously studying and taking tests and doing papers and projects.
“I thought we really got better in the practices we did have. We didn’t go very long, but when we went we went hard and crisp. We really worked on our transition offense, and I thought we did some really good things with that (against Northern Colorado) that we’ve got to continue to build on.”
While the Buffs were able to get out and run a little against Northern Colorado, they probably will not have to worry about transition defense against an offensively-challenged Omaha squad. The Mavericks haven’t scored more than 67 points in any of their seven games so far, and Omaha enters Wednesday’s game shooting just .381 overall with a .265 mark (30-for-113) on 3-pointers.
CU, meanwhile, played Monday’s game with its full roster for the first time in four games. Senior D’Shawn Schwartz missed the first two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, and Keeshawn Barthelemy and Tristan da Silva were held out of the second game following contact tracing protocols from Schwartz’s positive test.
All three of those players returned for last week’s loss at Tennessee, though the Buffs were missing starting guard Eli Parquet and freshman Luke O’Brien. Assuming there are no further setbacks in the short window ahead of the Omaha game, the Buffs can finally focus on tuning up the rotation they planned to utilize at the outset of the season.
Schwartz, CU’s third-leading scorer the past two seasons, struggled in his return at Tennessee. But Boyle returned Schwartz to his normal spot in the starting lineup against Northern Colorado, and the hope is a late 3-pointer he buried — his first field goal of the season and his only long-range attempt of the night — gets CU’s best 3-point shooter back on track.
“The biggest thing I keep harping these guys about is, number one is sacrifice,” Boyle said. “Some guys are having to sacrifice minutes. And also, don’t count the time on the floor, make the time count. We cannot have guys pacing themselves. If we do that, we can wear teams down like we did (against Northern Colorado).”
Omaha Mavericks at CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Wednesday, 3 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Omaha 2-5; Colorado 3-1.
COACHES: Omaha — Derrin Hansen, 16th season (245-220 at Omaha and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (213-135, 269-201).
KEY PLAYERS: Omaha — F Matt Pile, Sr., 9.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg; G Ayo Akinwole, Sr., 8.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg; F Wanjang Tut, Jr., 8.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Sr., 17.8 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.0 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, Sr., 11.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 7.5 ppg, 4.5 ppg.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs are on track to play a second consecutive game at full strength against an overmatched foe. Another sharp performance like the one CU put together against Northern Colorado might provide a jolt of confidence before the schedule strengthens.
NOTES: Fans can still purchase cardboard cutouts to prop in the stands at the CU Events Center for $35, and they will be in the seats for men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as CU volleyball games. For more information visit CUBuffs.com or click here…This is CU’s final scheduled home game until Jan. 7 against Oregon…CU has played Omaha twice, posting nonconference wins in 2015 and 2018. In the 2018 win, five CU players scored in double figures, including 15 points current senior D’Shawn Schwartz and 13 points from Wright…Schwartz and Wright enter Wednesday’s game with an identical career total of made 3-pointers (111)…Omaha is coming off a 95-50 loss at Kansas…The Buffs will be idle until they play the first of two games in Las Vegas on Sunday against Washington in a contest that will be played as a nonconference game (8 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).