Colorado is enjoying a solid year offensively, and the star point guard McKinley Wright IV is enjoying a career year as a senior.
It is the pillars coach Tad Boyle has built his program upon, defense and rebounding, that aren’t supporting the Buffaloes.
Saturday’s loss offered a new low for the Buffs, who squandered a 19-point lead with less than 9 minutes remaining as senior guard Alfonso Plummer shot the Utes to victory by leading a game-ending 31-9 run.
It was a devastating setback, and one the Buffs will be challenged to shake off before hosting Arizona State on Thursday (9 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU). Yet since the start of Pac-12 play a month ago, a CU program that, generally speaking, has featured strong defense and rebounding with an inconsistent offense throughout coach Tad Boyle’s 11-season tenure suddenly is facing an identity crisis.
The offense has shown up consistently. The defense and rebounding have not.
When CU opened Pac-12 play at Arizona on Dec. 28, the Buffs made 12 3-pointers but the Wildcats shot .526, which remains a season-high for a CU opponent. The Buffs also were outrebounded and lost.
In a loss at Washington on Jan. 20, the Buffs shot .464 overall, despite a 1-for-18 night on 3-pointers. They committed only five turnovers, CU’s lowest total in nine years, and scored 80 points on the road, but UW hit a season-high 12 3-pointers.
On Saturday, this time at home, it was more of the same during the Buffs’ boggling collapse. CU made a season-high 13 3-pointers while Utah shot an even .500 overall and .516 in the second half. Oh, and the Buffs also were outrebounded and lost.
In 11 Pac-12 games, the Buffs have been outrebounded five times. They have been outrebounded in three consecutive games, and while their opponents have grabbed just a scant four more boards than CU during that span, it also is the first time the Buffs have been outrebounded in three straight games in six years.
After Saturday’s loss, Boyle deflected the idea the loss could lead to the sort of late-season swoon that marred the Buffs’ season last year. Making sure Saturday’s collapse was an aberration and a possible source of motivation instead of a sign of things to come will be the challenge for Boyle and his squad this week.
As expected, the Buffs took a hit in the national analytical rankings, but not dramatically so. Going into Sunday, CU had dropped to No. 20 in the NET and No. 17 at KenPom.com.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with last year and I’m not even worried about that,” Boyle said. “You come back to the next practice and you get after it. And you get better, and you learn, and improve. You just figure out how do you win the next game, and that’s Arizona State on Thursday night. And they’re a talented team. They’ve got some guys that can get hot like Plummer did. We’re going to have to hang our hat on our defense and our toughness.
“This loss is not going to affect our confidence. I truly, truly believe that. But it’s got to piss us off. It’s got to piss our guys off enough where they say, ‘You know what? This is never going to happen again.’ We’ve got to get an edge to us. And if we can do that, we’ll be fine. If we don’t, then winning the next game is going to be tough. Because Arizona State is a good team.”