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Three Takeaways from Colorado's erratic weekend against Washington and Washington State

Will Darkey Avatar
January 24, 2023

After two tough losses out west last week, Colorado looked to rebound with a two-game homestand hosting the Washington schools.

The much-needed rebound eventually came on Sunday when Washington State came to town.

However, Thursday’s troubling loss to Washington further exposed the Buffs’ weaknesses and now CU finds themselves toward the bottom of the Pac-12 standings.

With another week in the books, here’s what we can take away from this squad.

Non-Factor Starters

The starting five scored a respectable 95 points during the Buffs’ two-game homestand. However, if you take out the scoring performances of Tristan da Silva and KJ Simpson, you are left with only 24 points scored by the rest of the starting unit.

Nique Clifford put up just four points across two games, Lawson Lovering didn’t take a single shot from the field all game versus Washington State, and J’Vonne Hadley finished with mediocre totals of seven and nine points.

While it’s encouraging to see da Silva and Simpson put up solid scoring performances together, there needs to be more scoring beyond just those two in the starting five.

Nique Clifford was pegged as one of the juniors on this team that could take the next step in his game and solidify himself as a solid roleplayer. Instead, every single one of his shooting statistics has regressed from last season.

Clifford saw his minutes drop from 24 in the Washington game, down to just 11 in the Washington State game. 

So it begs the question: when Javon Ruffin comes back, should he get the nod over Nique in the starting lineup?

There is not much that can be done with Lawson’s minutes, mainly because of the lack of depth at his size. Buff Nation can just hope that the 7-foot-1 sophomore rekindles whatever he found at USC a week ago.

Defensive effort results in consistency

We all know what this team is.

They won’t shoot the lights out on a nightly basis. However, head coach Tad Boyle believes the inconsistencies aren’t due to poor shooting, they come from a lack of toughness on defense.

CU held the Cougars to just four made threes – their second-lowest total in league play.

“They had two threes in the first half and two in the second half. Our goal is six or less,” said Boyle. “Big-time effort by our guys. That’s the focus. That’s the attention to detail that I’m talking about is understanding what other teams’ strengths are and taking that away.”

The defensive focus that Boyle referred to in the Washington State game was nowhere close to present in the Washington game.

“The toughness wasn’t there in the first 37 minutes of Washington. Attention to detail wasn’t there. The energy wasn’t there until the end,” said Boyle.

The Buffs surrendered 25 points to Washington’s Keion Brooks on what was an overall easy scoring day for the transfer from Kentucky. He had multiple wide-open looks where the Buffs were late to close out on him or didn’t properly switch.

Outcomes like Washington State prove Tad’s point about the inconsistencies stemming from the defense. On a day when CU only put up 58 points, shot 60% from the line, and had 17 turnovers, they were still able to pull out the win behind a strong defensive performance.

Winning streaks will build for this team if they show the same defensive tenacity for each game as they did against the Cougars on Sunday.

KJ got his swagger back

After practice last Friday, Simpson discussed his efforts in getting back after his ankle and illness setbacks.

“I was at the top of my game and just hurt my ankle, and then at the same time got sick,” said Simpson. “So just getting back has been a little frustrating, but I feel like it’s just more mental right now than anything.”

That mental barrier KJ spoke on was all but demolished in the game against Washington State. Whether it was the poster slam with four minutes left in the game or the game-winning three-pointer with four seconds left, vintage KJ Simpson shone through and took over in the late minutes of the Buffs’ victory.

“Oh, it was good, especially with [Tristan Da Silva and I] being leaders,” said Simpson. “We had to set the tone, we had to set the example.”

Simpson finished with 16 points on 5-12 shooting, providing beautiful scoring plays on top of his stellar leadership.  

The star guard seems to have his swagger back at a much-needed time as CU travels up to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Oregon schools this week.

The last time Colorado faced these schools they put up historic numbers the program hadn’t seen in 70+ years, but these rematches on the road will surely provide a tougher test. The Buffs kick off the road trip Thursday night at Oregon. Coverage begins at 7 pm on the Pac-12 Network.

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