Throughout one of the best starts in program history, Colorado men's basketball players have talked about their cohesiveness being a key to the team's success.

The glue to the Buffaloes is now gone, but this week, they have preached the importance of being closer than ever.

On Thursday night, the No. 21 Buffs (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12) will host No. 25 UCLA (13-3, 2-1) in their first game since losing star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending knee injury Sunday. The Buffs also lost talented freshman Tre'Shaun Fletcher in that 71-54 loss to Washington. Fletcher will miss six to eight weeks.

"We're going to have to rely on each other," Buffs head coach Tad Boyle said.

CU knew immediately that Dinwiddie's injury was bad, and on Monday, the Buffs got confirmation that he would miss the rest of the season.

They spent Tuesday and Wednesday learning how to play without him, and without Fletcher.

"I think it's been decent," junior guard Askia Booker said. "It's always going to be rough (losing a key player). It's not like Spencer graduated or he went off to the NBA and we had some time to think about it and go over it. We're jumping right into the fire against UCLA, which is a really good team.

"You can't expect us to mesh right away, but we're trying. The leadership on this team has to pick up from some other players, including myself. Hopefully Josh (Scott) and Xavier Johnson and Wesley (Gordon) can pick up some of the leadership and we can all step our game up."

CU struggled during the second half against Washington, being outscored 45-25 without Dinwiddie. Backup guard Eli Stalzer said the Buffs were so used to playing with Dinwiddie, who is exceptional at creating shots for himself and others, that the in-game transition was difficult.

"Our team has been doing so well this season that it's not often that we have to rely on the system rather than our athleticism or our talent," Stalzer said after the game. "Having to make that transition, it seemed like it was a little tough to do."

This week, Boyle said he agrees with Stalzer that the Buffs now have to rely on their offensive and defensive systems, and trust in the coaches and each other perhaps more than ever.

"Spencer was so talented; he's a big guard, he can get his shot, he can get shots for others," Boyle said. "He made great decisions off ball screens. It's not to say other guys can't do that, but we're going to have to rely on each other more.

"Eli's exactly right; we're going to have to rely on our system and our offense to generate our shots. The whole key is getting a good shot every time down. Against Washington we took a lot of bad shots."

CU's plan of attack on offense, as always, is to work inside-out and utilize the talented trio of Scott, Gordon and Johnson in the paint. From there, the Buffs need guards, like Booker and Jaron Hopkins, and even Xavier Talton and Stalzer, to hit shots from the perimeter.

In addition to that, the Buffs will emphasize the importance of each possession on offense, Boyle said.

"Now, our margin for error is much less," Boyle said. "What we have to concentrate on is having great possessions on offense. We can't have empty possessions, we can't take bad shots. That shouldn't be any different whether Spencer is here or not here, but with him being out, the offensive possessions become that much more valuable. We have to make sure we take care of the ball and that we get a great shot every time on offense."

Of course, defensive intensity has been a focus, too. Even with Dinwiddie, who is the team's best perimeter defender, the Buffs have been up and down on defense this season. Facing UCLA, which is one of the top-scoring teams in the country, will be a major challenge for the new-look Buffs.

It is a challenge they think they're ready for, though. And, in reality, they have no choice but to be ready.

"Yeah, without a doubt," Booker said. "Coach Boyle has no doubt in us that we can (win) and I think we will win. It all comes down to how well we play as a team, if we're going to bee in help side and help somebody (on defense) if they get beat. We have to be there, shoulder to shoulder and we're going to have to fight for one another and I think we're ready to do that."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.