No doubt, the Colorado Buffaloes are at their best when all the assets of a deep roster are making their mark.
When Evan Battey is grabbing offensive rebounds and energizing his teammates. When Lucas Siewert is providing scoring punch off the bench. When Shane Gatling and Maddox Daniels are knocking down 3-pointers.
Yet in college basketball, especially in February and even more so in March, there are times when the stars of any given contender need to shine brightest. And, aside from a few key plays late from Gatling, with the aforementioned role players struggling during the Buffs’ home win against Cal on Thursday night, it was the standout junior trio of McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, and D’Shawn Schwartz that led CU to victory.
While the 24th-ranked Buffs certainly will be in better shape if Battey and Siewert get back on track, perhaps beginning with Saturday’s home date against Stanford, having the team’s best players be able to step up at crunch time to lead the way is a trait that should be as equally helpful down the stretch as CU’s overall depth.
“You need your best players to play well when they’re needed to play well,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I don’t ever want it to fall on two or three guys’ shoulders. It’s on all of our shoulders. But the reality is there’s going to be some nights where guys don’t maybe play well, or there’s a lid on the basket. Last night (against Cal) Lucas didn’t shoot the ball well. He’s a good shooter, we know that. But the other guys have to step up, and they did.”
Despite a slow start, it ended as a solid night for CU’s offense against Cal — the Buffs shook off a .393 shooting percentage in the first half to shoot 59 percent in the second half, and they finished with just 10 turnovers — but with the role players struggling, the veteran juniors in the starting lineup took control.
Wright, Bey, and Schwartz combined to shoot 19-for-29, with Bey grabbing 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season and Schwartz matching a career-high with four assists. Certainly the Buffs need Siewert to bounce back from the season-low one point he tallied against Cal, and for Battey to return to the form he flashed last week in Los Angeles instead of the foul-plagued player who was held to four points and three rebounds on Thursday. Yet that trio showed that at times they can carry the load when their teammates are struggling.
“We know we have to be better on Saturday,” Wright said. “So nobody was mad (after Cal). We all know we’re better than we showed tonight. We have to make sure we dial in to the scouting report again. Stanford is a high-executing team.”
In Stanford, the Buffs host a foe that began the season 15-2 but arrives in Boulder having lost four of its past five games, including an overtime loss Thursday at Utah. While CU enters the game with a Pac-12 best shooting percentage of .466 in league games, the Buffs’ attack will be challenged by a Cardinal defense that owns a league-leading defensive field goal percentage of .371 in league games.
“They play good defense. And we’re going to have to take what they give us,” Boyle said. “They’re going to double our post guys every time they catch it down there. We know that. We practiced it. We prepared for it. Now we’ve got to handle it and make the plays. We know what they’re going to do defensively. Now we have to counteract that with our offense.”
Stanford Cardinal at No. 24 CU Buffs
TIPOFF: Saturday, 4 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Stanford 16-6, 5-4 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 18-5, 7-3.
COACHES: Stanford — Jerod Haase, 4th season (64-55, 144-108 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (207-128, 263-194 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Stanford — F Oscar da Silva, Jr., 16.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, .602 field goal percentage; G Tyrell Terry, Fr., 15.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.3 apg, .406 3-point percentage; F Spencer Jones, Fr., 9.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .432 3-point percentage. Colorado — F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg; G McKinley Wright, Jr., 13.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.2 apg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .396 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg.
WHAT TO WATCH: It will be strength versus strength when the Buffs have the ball. In league play, CU enters the game with a Pac-12 best shooting percentage of .466, while Stanford counters with a league-leading defensive field goal percentage of .371.
NOTES: On Friday, Boyle said 7-footer Dallas Walton did not play against Cal due to a minor ankle injury he suffered at practice earlier this week. Walton is expected to be available against Stanford…The Buffs enter Saturday’s play tied with No. 14 Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings at 7-3, with No. 23 Arizona a half-game behind at 6-3. The Ducks play at Oregon State Saturday night (8:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks) while Arizona hosts UCLA (8 p.m. MT, ESPN2)…CU senior guard Shane Gatling recorded 12 assists with 16 turnovers during nonconference play, yet since the start of the Pac-12 schedule he has posted 20 assists against 12 turnovers…Bey needs 15 points to become the 36th member of the program’s 1,000-point club…The Buffs had won nine consecutive games against the Cardinal before losing at Stanford last year. CU leads the all-time series 12-10 with an 8-3 edge in Boulder…Through Thursday’s games, the Buffs stood at No. 18 in the NET rankings and No. 20 at KenPom.com…CU returns to the road next week in Oregon, beginning with a huge Thursday night showdown against the Ducks.