When Washington State faced Colorado in Spokane last month, there was every reason to believe the Cougs would get run off the floor. The Buffaloes were riding high with a 13-2 record and coming off a win over Oregon at home. WSU was without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy and had just been embarrassed in Arizona.
But the Cougs would put up a fight before eventually falling in overtime as Colorado's transition game was too much to stop.
The key cog in that transition offense won't be around on Wednesday night (6:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network). Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a season-ending injury in the first half of the next game against Washington, and Colorado hasn't been the same since.
Tad Boyle's squad would eventually fall to the Huskies that day, and the Buffaloes' offense has faltered while going 2-3 over the next five games. Colorado is now 10th in Pac-12 offensive efficiency, but it's attack has been much better in those two wins.
The Buffs scored 1.19 points per possession in a win over USC and 1.15 in beating Utah. In those games it should come as no surprise that Colorado shot better, but digging deeper shows the Buffaloes were much better at taking care of the ball against the Trojans and Utes.
Can WSU force enough turnovers to slow down Colorado? It didn't last time--the Buffaloes gave it away on less than 9 percent of possessions. When WSU was able to be successful it locked down the defensive glass, grabbing almost 80 percent of Colorado's misses.
The Cougs also made it tough for the Buffs to get open shots in the halfcourt, something WSU hasn't done to opponents since. If WSU is able to replicate that against Colorado, it could have a lot of defensive successs. Dinwiddie was vital to the Buffaloes' ability to create baskets in transition and get to the free throw line.
If Washington State does slow down Colorado, will it be able to score enough to compete? In Lacy's first game back from a rib injury, WSU's offense looked as good as it has all season. Part of that was Lacy's presence--defenses have one more scorer to focus on--but D.J. Shelton's emergence also played a major role.
Shelton has been excellent offensively in three of the past four games, putting up single-game offensive ratings of 126, 131 and 155 against Cal, Oregon State and Washington. The senior big man played well against Colorado the first time as well, scoring 14 points and taking eight of his 11 shots inside the arc.
And Shelton's performance against Washington was a microcosm of the team's performance as a whole. WSU limited turnovers and got to the free throw line, neither of which it had done much of in Pac-12 play. The Cougs will need to do that again have a shot in Boulder.