BOULDER, Colo. – If the Colorado Buffaloes had simply continued to miss all of their wide-open 3-point attempts, the Cougars might have had a chance here on Saturday afternoon.
But Colorado shoots the ball too well for Washington State to rotate as slowly as it did on the perimeter and get away with it. And once the Buffaloes started putting the ball in the basket, they put the Cougars away, WSU falling 71-60 at the Coors Event Center in another disappointing Pac-12 road loss.
Still, coach Ken Bone said afterward he didn’t second-guess his decision to play most of the game in a 2-3 matchup zone against the Buffaloes, who entered the game ranked 21st in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage at 39.6.
“We thought zone was the way to play them, even though statistically speaking it might not be,” Bone said. “We had decent success the first half when they scored 32 and shot 20 percent from the 3-point line.”
Colorado made only 3 of 15 attempts from long range before halftime. But many of those misses were quality looks. Forward Austin Dufault picked up the slack by converting from closer range, scoring 12 of his 17 in the first half.
“I just knew that the inside of their zone had a lot of holes in it,” Dufault said. “There were gaps everywhere that we just needed to get to.”
Yet WSU trailed just 32-24 at halftime despite its suspect defense and inefficient offense — the Cougars had more turnovers (nine) in the first half than made field goals (eight).
Not much changed immediately after other than Colorado’s accuracy. Carlon Brown, the Buffs’ leading scorer, made all four of his 3-point attempts after halftime, three of them coming in the first 3:40 of the second half as the Buffaloes ripped off a 20-7 run that helped them to a lead as large as 22 points. WSU’s poor transition defense didn’t help, either.
Brown led all scorers with 28.
“I just think our scramble was a little bit slow,” said senior guard Marcus Capers. “You’ve got to sprint. If you don’t sprint – that split-second, each level you go up, that little second that we gave them – there were open shooters, and they were finding their teammates.”
“I thought we had numerous possessions the second half where we played good defense for 25-30 seconds, then they’d bury the three,” Bone said. “That can get a little bit demoralizing.”
WSU (9-7, 1-3 Pac-12) didn’t fare much better on offense, struggling with its rhythm en route to shooting just 36.5 percent from the field. Reggie Moore, who didn’t start – Dexter Kernich-Drew was inserted into the lineup just to “mix it up a little bit,” Bone said – led the Cougars with 14 points and sparked a late-game run that made things interesting.
The Cougars switched to man-to-man defense, forced a few turnovers and trimmed the lead to eight points with 2:40 left on a jumper by Faisal Aden.
Both Moore and Aden had chances to cut the lead to six on WSU’s next two possessions, but each missed a tough layup and Colorado sealed the game with free throws.
Moore scored 10 of his 14 in the final 9:14. He took a team-high 12 shots.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive offensively,” Moore conceded. “Coach has been telling me that, but talk is cheap and it’s time for me to start doing that.”
The Cougars face another stiff road task next week when they travel to Seattle to face Washington, which defeated Utah on Saturday to improve to 3-1 in conference play.
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