Josh Scott

Tad Boyle

Colorado to be without two starters Thursday night at No. 10 Arizona

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After suffering their worst loss of the season last Tuesday, Colorado enters its two-game road swing through Arizona with a 9-6 overall record (2-1 Pac-12) in need of some positive momentum. Unfortunately for head coach Tad Boyle his team isn’t at full strength ahead of their game at No. 10 Arizona, with juniors Josh Scott (back spasms) and Xavier Johnson (right high ankle sprain) both dealing with health issues.

And according to a report from Jeff Goodman of, neither will play Thursday night against the Wildcats.

Scott (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg) missed Colorado’s conference-opening games against UCLA and USC as a result of the back spasms and was a shell of himself in the Buffaloes’ 74-49 loss at No. 9 Utah last Tuesday, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds in 28 minutes of action.

Johnson (12.8, 5.4), who is third on the team in both scoring and rebounding, suffered his ankle injury on a shot attempt in the first half of that loss to Utah.

Without Scott and Johnson the Buffaloes won’t have much in the way of front court depth against the Wildcats, with second-leading rebounder Wesley Gordon remaining in his starting role and reserves such as Dustin Thomas and Tory Miller now needed to step forward.

Colorado’s third-leading scorer dealing with high ankle sprain

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Wednesday’s game against No. 9 Utah didn’t come at the best of times for the Colorado Buffaloes, who were looking to move to 3-0 in conference play after taking care of UCLA and USC last weekend. With junior forward Josh Scott missing those two games with back spasms and still at less than full strength, the Buffaloes arrived in Salt Lake City with one important health issue to address.

And early in their 74-49 loss to the Utes, Tad Boyle’s team lost a key piece as junior forward Xavier Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain. Johnson was attempting a layup, and the awkward plant resulted in the Mater Dei HS product injuring his right ankle. Johnson, who’s averaging 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds on the season, left the game and did not return.

Ice was applied to Johnson’s ankle upon his return to the bench in the first half, and in his postgame comments Boyle noted that high ankle sprains tend to take longer to heal than sprains that occur within the joint itself.

“He twisted his ankle pretty good, and it’s higher, it’s not in the joint it’s higher up,” Boyle said after the game. “High ankle sprains are pretty nasty and we’ll get a better feel for that as it progresses. They’re very painful and they take a little longer than just the normal ankle sprain.

“We have enough guys on this team to overcome but we would certainly like to get him back as soon as possible.”

If there’s a positive to be found in this situation it’s the schedule, with the Buffaloes not having another game until they visit No. 8 Arizona January 15. Will that be enough time for Johnson to heal and remain in the starting lineup? That remains to be seen, and after being outclassed by the Utes next Thursday’s game represents an important opportunity for a team that can use a quality win on its resume.

Prior to the start of conference play Colorado went through a stretch in which they lost four of six games, with the two wins coming at the expense of Northern Colorado and DePaul (which currently sits atop the Big East standings).

Colorado’s second half run a product of its focus on getting the ball inside

Josh Scott

After hanging close to Colorado for the entire first half, Auburn was able to trim its deficit to four points (49-45) with 13:13 remaining in the game. Despite not having the services of guard Antoine Mason, who was held out due to an ankle injury suffered in the Tigers’ win over Milwaukee Friday night, Bruce Pearl’s squad was able to hang around thanks in large part to the play of guard K.T. Harrell (20 points) and power forward Cinmeon Bowers.

Unfortunately for Auburn the 13:13 mark was also when Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes began to improve their execution on both ends of the floor, with Colorado going on a 26-1 run that put the game well out of reach. Colorado would go on to win by the final score of 90-59, with their focus on getting the ball inside being the reason why.

Starters Josh Scott (17 points, nine rebounds), Xavier Johnson (17 points, five rebounds) and Wesley Gordon (16 points, 12 rebounds) led the way offensively for the Buffaloes, and after struggling to do so in the first half Colorado took advantage of its edges in both front court size and depth in the second half. Colorado finished the game with 42 points in the paint, with 24 of those coming in the game’s final 20 minutes.

What hurt Colorado in the first half was their “refusal” to consistently work the ball inside, and while they did manage to score 18 points in the paint and shoot 10-for-16 from two the eleven three-point attempts (making four) were too many considering the fact that Auburn didn’t have much bulk in the post outside of the undersized but tough Bowers (11 points, 13 rebounds).

In the second half Colorado attempted just three three-pointers (making one), and they shot 16-for-23 from inside of the arc. And points-wise, 41 of Colorado’s 52 second-half points were scored either in the paint (24) or from the foul line (17; 17-for-20 FT). The Buffaloes have both depth and skill in their front court, and when they work the ball inside consistently this is a tough team to defend.

Because not only can guys like Scott and Johnson convert those opportunities, with Gordon being very good as an offensive rebounder, but it also opens things up on the perimeter. Askia Booker scored all nine of his points in the second half (seven during the decisive run), and reserve guard Jaron Hopkins contributed on both ends of the floor against the Tigers. The addition of Dominique Collier, who sat out the first two games for disciplinary reasons, will help Colorado at the point guard position moving forward.

But regardless of who’s on the perimeter, Colorado will be at its best when there’s a concerted effort to get the ball inside. That occurred in the second half Tuesday morning, resulting in the Buffaloes pulling away from an undermanned (and ultimately overmatched) opponent.