Defensive struggles begin in backcourt for CU Buffs men’s basketball

Elijah Parquet trying to regain Pac-12 All-Defense form

University of Colorado, Boulder's Elijah Parquet ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado, Boulder’s Elijah Parquet steals the ball from Colorado School of Mines’ Titus Reed.

Unlike a handful of shooting slumps that have struck the Colorado men’s basketball team, the slump Elijah Parquet is battling through doesn’t necessarily jump off the box score. Unless, of course, one peruses the opposing score sheet.

Colorado’s lockdown senior guard has struggled defensively right alongside his teammates over the first month of the season. While those shooting slumps have to turn around as well, head coach Tad Boyle remains far more concerned about his team’s recent defensive efforts as the Buffaloes look ahead to a Wednesday night home date against Eastern Washington (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

The Buffs returned to practice on Monday, and Boyle hinted for the first time so far this season he is considering revamping the rotation.

“There’s no reason to be in a defensive slump, but (Parquet) is struggling defensively,” Boyle said. “I just don’t think his mindset is where it needs to be there. I’ve got one thing the players want. And one thing only. It’s playing time. That’s how I fix it. That’s how I fix anything. I’ve got to do a better job of distributing the minutes, and I didn’t do a very good job of that (against Tennessee).”

Certainly CU’s defensive struggles shouldn’t be heaped entirely on Parquet. Point guards Keeshawn Barthelemy and KJ Simpson have struggled at that end of the floor as well, serving perhaps as a reminder just how underrated the defensive contributions were from former point guard McKinley Wright IV.

Few Buffs tip opposing passes more frequently than Parquet, and he shares the team lead with Jabari Walker in both steals (eight) and blocked shots (seven). But Parquet also was a Pac-12 All-Defense selection last season, and CU’s defense has regressed this season even with Parquet still patrolling the perimeter.

Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler torched the Buffs for a 13-for-20 showing with 27 points on Saturday, but he hardly is the only opposing backcourt player to fare well against CU. UCLA’s Tyger Campbell went 4-for-7 on 3-pointers with 21 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

During a win against Stanford, while CU’s Tristan da Silva was slowing Cardinal star freshman Harrison Ingram, Stanford’s next top perimeter players, Spencer Jones and Michael O’Connell, went a combined 9-for-14. In the finale of the Paradise Jam, Brown starting guards Dan Friday and Paxson Wojcik shot a combined 10-for-18.

“I think it’s more off the ball than on the ball,” Parquet said of his defensive struggles. “Our ball-screen defense has been rough. One-on-one, guarding the ball, I think I’m doing a good job on that front. It’s just off the ball stuff. Rotations, that part of the defense. We’ve just got to do the little things more. That’s what we’ve got to focus on in practice, and in the games.”

What immediate changes Boyle might make to the starting lineup or rotation are unclear, though he did admit on Monday to second-guessing himself about not getting Nique Clifford off the bench during the second half of Saturday’s loss against Tennessee. Subbing Simpson for Barthelemy, who is 0-for-13 on 3-pointers in the past four games, in the starting lineup is one thought. But neither player has shined defensively, and Barthelemy has committed just one turnover in the past three games and only six in the past seven.

“I told the players today, offensively, it’s their job to take care of the turnovers. I’m going to take care of the bad shots and shot selection,” Boyle said. “That’s my deal with them going forward. They’ve got to take care of the turnovers, I’ll take care of the bad shots by yanking them out of the game and putting them on the bench.”