BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Torrid defense is helping the Colorado Buffaloes overcome their horrid start.
The Buffaloes walloped Washington State 81-49 on Sunday night for their fifth win in six games thanks to a stifling defense that produced two dozen turnovers which led to 34 points.
“Defensively they were at another level,” Cougars coach Ernie Kent marveled. “This wasn’t the same team we saw in Pullman. You keep looking at their defensive numbers coming down, down, down. Now I know why. They are a very physical team. If they play that way, they are going to cause a lot of problems. I can see how they beat Oregon, now, if that is the same kind of intensity they played with.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle called it “as good of an all-around performance as we’ve had all year,” even topping the stellar defensive gem that allowed them to snap Oregon’s 17-game winning streak.
The Cougars didn’t manage a single steal to counter Colorado’s season-high dozen steals, and Washington State scored just 5 points off Colorado’s 11 turnovers.
“We just played great team defense,” said Derrick White, whose 23 points led the Buffs (15-11, 5-8 Pac-12) as they avenged a 91-89 overtime loss at Washington State last month, part of an 0-7 stumble to start league play.
The Buffaloes capitalized on the return of suspended seniors Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson. Gordon collected 7 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
“Wes was great in there in the second half, getting his hands on a lot of balls they were trying to post-feed,” White said.
The Cougars (11-14, 4-9) were seeking their first series sweep in five years, but Colorado’s defense quickly drained any drama from the rematch.
They trailed 37-24 at the half and fell behind by as many as 35.
Robert Franks led Washington State with 10 points thanks to a long 3-pointer with three-tenths of a second left. Josh Hawkinson finished with eight points, half of his average.
Gordon and Johnson had missed Colorado’s last two games for violating unspecified team rules, and the Buffs split those games, beating Washington and losing at Cal, their only blemish during a resurgence.
“You want to peak here down the stretch,” White said.
The Cougars just wanted to wash this one away.
“We couldn’t run our offense. We couldn’t handle the ball,” Kent said. “… At the end, you just throw this one away and get ready for the next one.”
Washington State: The Cougars have two more chances to complete their first sweep in the Pac-12 since 2011-12. Next weekend they host the Arizona State Sun Devils, whom they beat 91-83 on Jan. 29. Then, they Washington on Feb. 26. They beat their rivals 79-74 on New Year’s Day.
Colorado: The Buffaloes’ final road trip takes them to Oregon and Oregon State, schools they beat at home in January to spark their turnaround from that bad start that included four losses in which they blew last-minute leads.
SELFLESS NOT SELFISH: Boyle rattled off the box score’s most glaring numbers: “I thought our guys defended, we rebounded, we turned them over 24 times, 16 assists and 11 turnovers is a good ratio. … We held them to 38 percent and we outrebounded them by 13. When we hit our defensive numbers, which we haven’t done in a while, you don’t even have to look at the score, you know you’re going to win.”
IN TOUCH: The key to this kind of great defense, Boyle said, is getting a piece of the ball.
“We just want active hands,” he said. “We want to think about deflections. You don’t necessarily want to think about steals because you don’t want to gamble.”
The Cougars return to Beasley Coliseum for a three-game home stand beginning Thursday night against Arizona. The Buffaloes visit Oregon State on Thursday night.
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