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Colorado needs game-winner to serve as a catalyst for Askia Booker (VIDEO)

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After No. 6 Kansas scored the first seven points of the game, it would be difficult to blame any Colorado fans who managed to utter the words, “here we go again.” In last season’s meeting in Lawrence the Buffaloes were blitzed right out of the gates, and the end result was a 90-54 defeat that wasn’t all that close. And with the Jayhawks having won 19 straight games in this series, who could really blame anyone who saw that start and assumed that Kansas was well on its way to pushing that streak to 20.

Tad Boyle’s team did have those thoughts, instead methodically working their way back into the game with a little help from reserves such as guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher and forwards Ben Mills and Dustin Thomas. And in the end, it was Askia Booker who made the difference.

Booker properly executed a Euro step into a 28-footer that connected as time expired, resulting in Colorado winning by the final score of 75-72. The win ends Colorado’s 19-game losing streak against Kansas, but more importantly this could be the game that gets the Buffaloes’ starting two-guard out of a shooting slump he’s been mired in for about a year.

Booker entered Saturday’s game averaging 11.4 points per game, which is a respectable figure. But the percentages, 37.6% from the field and 23.8% from beyond the arc, are nowhere near where he or his teammates would like it to be. And last season he wasn’t much better, posting percentages of 36.4% and 31.2% in those respective categories. A hard-worker who spends plenty of time working on his game Booker isn’t shy when it comes to shot selection, but to limit him too much in that area would take away from his skill set.

The “quantity” will be there when it comes to Booker’s shots, but in order for Colorado to be at their best this season and potentially contend in the Pac-12 the “quality” needs to be there as well. Against Kansas Booker shot 5-for-12 from the field, not the best percentage but it represents his third-best outing of the season percentage-wise, and his 15 points tied his high for the season. Four starters finished the game in double figures, which isn’t much of a surprise when considering how balanced Colorado has been.

Xavier Johnson (14 points, six rebounds) and Josh Scott (14 points, four rebounds) held their own in the front court against Kansas’ talented interior, with highly-touted freshman big Joel Embiid going scoreless in the second half after scoring ten points in the first 20 minutes. But there were some issues for the Buffaloes that need to be corrected.

Colorado shot just 22-for-37 from the charity stripe, with misses down the stretch leaving the door open for Kansas to tie the game prior to Booker’s game-winning shot. On the season Colorado entered Saturday’s game shooting 74.1% from the charity stripe, which is a good number, but at times over the last two seasons the Buffaloes have struggled in this area late in games.

But the biggest concern moving forward has to be Colorado’s three-point shooting. Against Kansas they shot 7-for-22 from beyond the arc, and on the season Colorado ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in three-point field goal percentage (31.5%). Like Kansas Colorado’s going to see more zone looks for this very reason, and this is where Booker comes into play.

Despite struggling with his shot Booker kept plugging away, and his teammates and coaches remained confident in his ability to knock down shots. Now the hope is that Saturday’s finish will serve as the catalyst needed to get Booker back on track, because when he’s scoring consistently (and efficiently) Colorado is a tougher team to defend.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org