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Pat Rooney: CU Buffs 3 extra points (Jan. 8, 2024)

Jan. 8—BuffZone writer Pat Rooney discusses three topics surrounding CU Buffs athletics following both basketball teams' two-game trips through Arizona.

Injury woes

The Colorado men's basketball team has shown it can beat teams while shorthanded. The Buffaloes did it in Brooklyn, N.Y., last month, routing a 15th-ranked Miami team. They did it during the opening weekend at home, posting wins against Washington and Washington State.

But the longer CU's manpower issues go on, the more difficult it will be for the Buffs to clear that mental hurdle. That's just human nature. Providing the lopsided thumping CU endured at Arizona proves to be the anomaly in terms of performance, Saturday's loss at ASU offered a better example of the missed opportunities that might accumulate if the Buffs don't start getting closer to full strength.

The 10 turnovers in the first half that turned into 20 ASU points ultimately made the difference. Yet in many respects the Buffs did things that often lead to wins on the road. They outrebounded ASU 35-30 (although CU surrendered eight offensive rebounds). The Buffs held ASU to a .333 shooting percentage after halftime, including a 2-for-10 mark from long range. CU cut its own turnovers to just three in the second half. Still, five of those giveaways in the first half led directly to wide-open 3-pointers for a total of 15 points. If CU cuts just those five turnovers in half (never mind the other five), the 7.5 fewer points for ASU, combined with at least two more buckets for the Buffs while recovering those lost possessions, turns a 3-point loss into a relatively comfortable road win.

The Buffs haven't made excuses as Cody Williams, Tristan da Silva (now back in the rotation) and Julian Hammond III have been waylaid from the rotation. And, particularly at home, they can still win games. Yet the narrow margin of the result at ASU marked the first of the season that likely would have gone the other way had the injured players (in this case, Williams and Hammond) been active.

Road warriors

In contrast to a CU men's team that fell to 0-3 in true road games (plus a forgettable loss against Florida State on a neutral floor in Florida) is coach JR Payne's women's team, which remained at No. 5 in this week's Associated Press AP top 25 after recording only the seventh two-game road sweep for the program since joining the Pac-12 in the 2011-12 season.

With the wins at Arizona and Arizona State, the Buffs improved to 4-0 in true road games, a ledger that doesn't include an opening night win against preseason No. 1 LSU in Las Vegas. Or two wins in three games at the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands.

It is a product of CU's veteran rotation, which won a true road game at Duke to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last spring. In a Pac-12 race that should be a heavyweight fight until the finish, CU's ability to close out tough road games could be the sort of trait that separates the Buffs from the pack. First and foremost, the Buffs have to continue holding serve at home (CU is 6-0 at the Events Center with home dates this week against California and No. 8 Stanford) but this is a race that could come down to which Pac-12 power can steal more road wins in tough venues. This Buffs squad is suited for that task.

Secondary reinforcements

I maintained last year it would be difficult to add quarterback depth with a proven, high-caliber starter entrenched as the starter who also happens to be the head coach's son. With Shedeur Sanders facing his final season of eligibility, however, the Buffs were able to add a couple of younger depth pieces in transfers Destin Wade (Kentucky) and Walter Taylor (Vanderbilt).

Having wealth of talent at cornerback hasn't prevented CU from adding intriguing talent, as on Sunday night the Buffs received a commitment from former Oklahoma State defensive back DJ McKinney. The Buffs already have Travis Hunter and Cormani McClain, the top-rated cornerbacks in the nation their respective recruiting classes, in addition to the expected return of two productive rotation players in Omarion Cooper and Carter Stoutmire. McKinney is another potential impact player in the secondary after leading the Cowboys' cornerbacks in tackles with 38. The new defensive coordinator will have some depth to work with.