ST. THOMAS, US Virgin Islands — The defense, in the words of Colorado head coach Tad Boyle, took a step forward.
The offense? Well, it seemed to vacate the Virgin Islands a little early.
Nevertheless, the CU men’s basketball team escaped with two wins at the Paradise Jam after throttling Brown defensively and overcoming a frustrating offensive showing by getting just enough baskets when it really mattered.
The rugged 54-52 win against Brown on Monday allowed the Buffs to head home triumphantly, look forward to enjoying Thanksgiving, and then begin preparations for the Pac-12 Conference opener on Sunday at home against Stanford (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network). It was the sort of victory that could serve as a blueprint for the sort of tenets Boyle has preached since the very first of his 12 seasons in Boulder, as the Buffs dominated the glass (39-30) and tightened the screws defensively (Brown shot just .302) to pull out the win.
Still, the performance brought a twinge of regret. Had CU played similar defense in the tournament opener, a loss against Southern Illinois, the Buffs might have had an opportunity to play for the Paradise Jam championship rather than being relegated to the consolation bracket. Instead, the title went to CU’s rivals from the north, the Colorado State Rams, who pulled off an epic comeback to top Northeastern in the title game Monday night.
“That’s what we talked about after the game. That’s why we have the identity that we have, so you can figure out how to win games like this,” Boyle said. “Again, Southern Illinois scored 67 on us. They scored 47 on Northeastern. Well, if we can hold them to 47, we’ve got a chance to play for a championship. But we didn’t. That’s what our guys have to understand.”
After traveling home on Tuesday, the Buffs will work out on Wednesday and take Thanksgiving off before intensifying the focus on Stanford. That should provide ample time to work out some flaws revealed by the most frustrating offensive effort of the season against Brown.
CU finished with a .400 mark from the floor (18-for-45) against the Bears, its lowest mark through the first two weeks of the season. The Buffs had not hit fewer than four 3-pointers in any game before going just 1-for-9 from long range against the Bears. After committing 34 turnovers during the first two games of the season, the Buffs didn’t commit more than 11 in any of the next three games before recording 16 giveaways against the Bears.
Even with the Buffs’ shooting struggles, the game against Brown might have been a more comfortable victory if not for the Bears’ 15-4 advantage in points off turnovers. CU likely won’t be able to get away with those sorts of miscues against Stanford, and the Buffs certainly won’t next week when they visit No. 2 UCLA.
“The offense was anemic,” Boyle said. “And we got good looks. Our post guys didn’t finish real well around the rim and on the block. We had some really good looks from three that didn’t go in. We went 1-for-9. But we found a way. We got buckets when we had to get buckets. But offensively, we’ve got to finish better.
“Our offense has to get better. And it will get better. I promise that. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys offensively. We’ve got to finish better, and flow a little better.