With defense clicking, No. 21 CU basketball looks to fine-tune offense

Buffs return home to host Sacramento State Saturday night

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 26: Aamir Simms #25 of the Clemson Tigers is fouled by Evan Battey #21 of the Colorado Buffaloes during the MGM Resorts Main Event basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on November 26, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS—The defense already is in midseason, lock-down form for the Colorado men’s basketball team.

Yet by just about everyone’s admission in a giddy postgame locker room late Tuesday night in Las Vegas, the Buffaloes’ offense has to improve in a hurry.

During two victories in Las Vegas at the MGM Resorts Main Event the 21st-ranked Buffs turned it on when it mattered most, capping the showcase with a dominant second half against Clemson to post a 71-67 victory at T-Mobile Arena.

The Buffs’ run of holding every opponent under 40 percent shooting came to an end, though barely, with Clemson finishing with a .408 mark after going 9-for-23 in the second half. However, for much of the first 25 minutes the Buffs struggled offensively. The Buffs have yet to enjoy a breakout game on offense, and they will have to improve in a hurry as they start to take aim at next week’s much-anticipated showdown at No. 4 Kansas.

Barring an upset loss in Saturday’s home date against Sacramento State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) or an improbable turn of events in next week’s AP top 25 poll, the Dec. 7 matchup at Kansas will be the first for a ranked Buffs team against another ranked team since a No. 21-ranked CU squad lost at home to No. 25 UCLA on Jan. 16, 2014, just days after guard Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.

The Buffs also host Loyola Marymount on Wednesday, Dec. 4 before zeroing in on the Jayhawks.

“The environment will be quite different (at Kansas),” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “But we need to get better offensively. We need to make improvements between now and Saturday when we play Sac State. Loyola Marymount is going to be a team that comes into Boulder and it’s going to be their biggest game of the year. We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to think about before we start putting the cart in front of the horse. We’ve just got to continue to get better.

“They way we won it (against Clemson), we probably needed it,”

The Buffs haven’t been terrible on offense, and the level at which the Buffs are defending and rebounding can gloss over plenty of offensive shortcomings. Yet clearly there is room for improvement.

CU is averaging just 69.6 points per game after the same basic team averaged 73.6 last year. While the Buffs’ 3-point shooting has been solid at .384, CU is shooting .408 overall and just .387(65-for-168) over the past three games. Turnovers haven’t been an overly glaring issue as in years past, yet the 13 giveaways per game CU is averaging likely still is too many to expect to get away with against teams like Kansas.

On the plus side, the Buffs made an abrupt and dramatic improvement at the free throw line against Clemson. CU’s .753 mark at the line last year was the third-best single-season percentage in program history, yet after going 9-for-20 in Sunday’s win against Wyoming the Buffs’ free throw percentage dipped to .603.

Those struggles were erased against Clemson. Tyler Bey missed CU’s first free throw attempt of the night against Clemson, but the Buffs proceeded to reel off 24 made free throw in a row, with Bey finishing 9-for-10.

“We needed this (Clemson) game,” CU point guard McKinley Wright said. “I don’t think we’d been down double-digits this season, and we were down double-digits to an ACC team. A well-coached team. Some seniors and some guys who want to win, and a team that has been to the tournament multiple times. That was something that we needed. They tested us and we responded.”

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