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Lack of focus derailing Colorado men’s basketball during losing streak

Colorado's KJ Simpson drives against the Washington Huskies Thursday night in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s KJ Simpson drives against the Washington Huskies Thursday night in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It was another frustrating loss. And one that offered yet another perfect example of the shortcomings that have held back the Colorado men’s basketball team throughout the season.

When the Buffaloes turned it on late in what turned out to be a 75-72 loss at home on Thursday night against Washington, it was easy to wonder where that effort was over the previous 36 minutes. It also followed the blueprint of the Buffs’ loss at Washington on Dec. 4, when CU struggled to muster a fight until a furious late rally that fell short.

In that light, the Buffs have showcased little improvement in the nearly seven weeks between their losses against the Huskies. That is an oversimplification, perhaps, as until Thursday’s .636 second-half shooting effort by UW, CU had played improved defense in recent weeks.

Yet after the defeat, head coach Tad Boyle ripped the lethargy and lack of attention to detail that is threatening to turn the Buffs into an afterthought in this season’s Pac-12 Conference race.

“I would attribute it to being brain dead and lack of energy,” Boyle said. “Brain dead means that you’re not focusing. You’re not concentrating. You’re not doing your job. You’re not hustling. You’re not scrambling. That’s what I would attribute it to.

“It’s unbelievable. We had Julian (Hammond III) and KJ (Simpson) in a pick-and-roll in the second half defensively. We didn’t switch it, they got the ball deep in the lane for two points. Out of bounds underneath in the first half, they whap a three because we’re not ready to play. They have an inside cut, which we’re supposed to switch. We’ve talked about it, we’ve worked on it. In the first half, we don’t do it. We don’t talk. PJ Fuller whaps a wide-open 15-footer. So it’s the defensive lapses, mentally, and is that frustrating? Oh my God. I can’t tell you how frustrating.”

CU began the week averaging the most turnovers per game in the Pac-12 but finished under its average with 13 against the Huskies. However, it felt like a fitting summation of the season that the Buffs had two possessions in the waning moments against UW in which they could have gone ahead or at least tied the game, but instead didn’t get a shot off either time due to turnovers.

The Buffs will try to salvage a home split against Washington State on Sunday (4 p.m., ESPNU) while also hoping for a return to form from Simpson. Since missing the Jan. 5 home win against Oregon while battling an illness, Simpson, averaging a team-leading 17.4 points per game, has averaged just 12.8 points in four games while shooting .375 from the floor. In those four games, Simpson has gone just 3-for-16 on 3-pointers with more turnovers (17) than assists (15).

“I tell our players I get angry at three things,” Boyle said. “I get angry at lack of effort. Lack of concentration. And selfishness. I don’t think we have a selfishness problem. I think these guys play together. Our lack of concentration absolutely drives me crazy. And we had a lot of that (against UW).”

“KJ is a good player that’s not playing well right now. That’s the fact of the matter. It’s my job as a coach to help him. Help him get better, help him recognize mistakes. We didn’t lose (against UW) because of KJ Simpson. We lost this game as a team. But I’ve got to do a better job helping KJ, better than I’m doing right now. I’ve got to do that with a lot of our players.”