Friday, January 24, 2020

No. 23 Colorado 78, Washington State 56: Buffaloes dominate the Cougars in the second half

Photo Credit: David Zalubowski- Associated Press

By: Adam Chalifoux
Twitter: @FantasticMrFOUX

BOULDER, CO— The No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12) got off to a slow start, but ultimately dominated the Washington State Cougars (12-8, 3-4 Pac-12) Thursday night at the CU Events Center. After a few key adjustments, The Buffaloes outscored the Cougars 40-23 in the second half to win the game 78-56.

The NCAA announced 15 finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award on Wednesday. One of the men on that list was Colorado’s Tyler Bey. When the starters were announced, however, Bey’s name was not called as he sat on the bench with heavily taped fingers on his right hand.

Without their best defensive player and most sought after NBA prospect, the Buffaloes looked to defend their homecourt versus a dangerous Cougars team fresh off wins over Oregon and Oregon State. The Cougars rising star, CJ Elleby came in hot after going for 25 points and 14 rebounds against Oregon to earn the Cougars’ first Pac-12 player of the week award since Klay Thompson took home the honor in 2009.

Early on, Elleby picked up where he left off as the Cougars showed their claws defensively forcing 10 first-half turnovers and plenty of open looks from deep in transition. The Cougars hit four of their first seven from deep until Boyle made his adjustments, holding them to four-of-10 in the half. Elleby led the Cougars with nine at the break. 

The second half, however, belonged to the Buffaloes as they began to make the visitors noticeably uncomfortable by staying out on key shooters and guarding physically inside while avoiding foul trouble.

Center Evan Battey was a catalyst on both ends, shutting down the inside while muscling in for points on the other end; when the defense collapsed he found the open man on the outside. Battey had one of his most impressive games of the season with 12 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and once again playing the role of emotional leader.

“When Evan plays within himself and on balance offensively he is a great passer and he is a willing passer,” said CU coach Tad Boyle, “and that's what makes Evan so fun to play with.”

The Buffaloes found a balanced attack and moved the ball with ease against the exasperated Cougars in the final twenty minutes finishing with 19 assists on their 26 field goals. 

Lucas Siewart led Colorado in scoring, going three for five from beyond the arch and finishing with a game-high 16 points. McKinley Wright stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds. Wright’s seventh points-assists double-double set a school record for the Buffaloes, passing Jay Humphries’ 36-year-old mark.

While Colorado’s offense was impressive, it was its defense that won them the game as they clamped down to finish the game on a 12-3 run in the final four minutes and 40 seconds. Boyle said assignment defense was a focal point for the Buffaloes halftime adjustments.

“We just talked about personnel,” said Boyle. “It was 38-33 at half, just off the top of my head it should have been 38-22… 11 points, Elleby bangs a three, (Issac) Bonton bangs a three... We talked about taking those threes away from those guys.”

Elleby shot four-of-seven in the first half and was limited to two of five in the second half; Bonton meanwhile went from two-of-six to an icy two-for-ten. After struggling on the glass against Arizona Saturday, the Buffaloes dominated the boards 45-28 after focusing on those details all week in practice despite not having Bey, their leading rebounder.

“Hopefully Saturday we’ll have him back and I expect to,” said Boyle.

Colorado hosts Washington (12-8, 2-5 Pac-12) Saturday night at 7 PM MT, FS1, while the Cougars travel west to Salt Lake City where they will on the Utah Utes (11-7, 2-4 Pac-12).