Contact CU Independent Sports Writer Alissa Noe at email@example.com.
When the University of Colorado men’s basketball senior forward Josh Scott went down with an ankle injury at Oregon State a couple weeks back, head coach Tad Boyle and his coaching staff had to rely on the skills of a team without their best player, again.
Yes, this has become familiar territory for the Buffaloes over the past few years, starting with Spencer Dinwiddie two seasons ago, to Scott himself last season. This year, however, they handled the adversity much better than history would have suggested.
Two years ago, on a day that will live in infamy in Colorado basketball history, Dinwiddie’s knee gave out on an suspect court in Washington. He not only tore his ACL, but the hopes and dreams of his teammates to finish a promising season with a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Up to that point, the Buffs boasted a 14-2 record and impressive wins over No. 6 Kansas and Oregon, along with several weeks in the AP Top 25 rankings. But when Dinwiddie went down, so did Colorado.
From there on out, the Buffs went 6-8 during the regular season, lost in the semis in the Pac-12 tournament and got absolutely destroyed by Pitt in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Fast forward a year.
Last season, Scott contracted unexplainable back spasms during the team’s trip to the Diamondhead Classic in Hawai’i and suffered through them over the next few weeks, missing eight games in all. During that time, the Buffs struck even at 4-4 while dropping a couple games they should have won and winning a game in triple overtime that should have been a cakewalk.
This year without Scott, the Buffs won both games last week against teams that may have been difficult to beat even if with Scott suiting up. And they did in the most exciting manners, with a little help from the depths of their bench.
During their first Scott-free matchup against Washington State, the Buffs put on a clinic in the first half as they amassed a 16-point lead, 33-17, before heading into halftime with a 41-32 lead. About midway through the second, the Cougars unexpectedly stormed back, stayed with the Buffaloes until the end of regulation and sent the game into overtime.
When all seemed to be lost for the Buffaloes after a questionable call sent Washington State sophomore guard Que Johnson to the line after a made layup, Buffaloes’ sophomore guard George King — who scored 21 points that night — sent the game into another overtime after sinking a three at the buzzer.
The Buffs then took command of the game while maintaining the pace in double OT for an 88-81 victory.
Not only did King step up big for the Buffs, but he had help from junior forward Wesley Gordon (15 points, 12 rebounds), senior guard Xavier Talton (13 points), junior guard Josh Fortune (11) and freshman guard Thomas Akyazili (career-high 10).
Moving onto Washington, the game was a little less black and white. The Huskies got off to a quick lead, but after an 11-3 run from Colorado five minutes in, the Buffs took over and led by 12 at halftime.
The Huskies came out firing on all cylinders in the second, closing the gap to just one point before the Buffs stormed back to another double-digit lead, sparked by nine straight points from Akyazili. Although he was the unsung hero of the early second half, Akyazili also almost caused Colorado’s demise in the final seconds.
With 1:38 left on the clock, the Huskies pulled to within one point, 79-78. Another Colorado score later, and Washington did it again with 56 seconds left, after Akyazili fouled out with a technical and relinquished two free throws to Andrew Andrews and a crucial Husky possession. But when Andrews missed a jumper with five seconds left, it was all said and done in Boulder.
Gordon recorded his ninth career double-double, and third in three games, with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while also recording four blocks.
For the game, five Buffs contributed double-digit scoring, led by Gordon, Fortune (13), King (10), junior guard/forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher (10) and sophomore guard Dominique Collier (10).
All things considered, two successful games without Colorado’s best player is not necessarily an indicator of long-term success, but it’s sure to give Buffs fans a little solace knowing that there are other players on this team who can step up in times of trouble.
Up next, the Buffs head to USC on Wednesday as they take on the highly-talented Trojans at 9 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.