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.