Colorado vs. Arizona: Spencer Dinwiddie's role yet to be filled

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The Arizona Wildcats host Colorado in the Buffs' first game in McKale Center since the Sabatino Chen debacle.

Time

7 p.m. MST

TV

ESPN2

By all accounts of what we've seen from Spencer Dinwiddie, it was the Colorado combo guard who'd be challenging Arizona's Nick Johnson for a spot on the All-Conference Team at the end of the year. It was also Spencer Dinwiddie, leader of the Buffaloes, that has given the Wildcats a game in every meeting since the Pac-12 expansion.

An ACL injury robbed Dinwiddie of his season, and the Buffs have split two games since.

"There's no question they're an NCAA tournament team," UA coach Sean Miller said in this week's teleconference call. "They'll reinvent themselves to a certain degree, plugging different players in different roles. If you just look at his free throws attempts alone and think about the damage that does to Colorado's opponents, it's mind-boggling. It made me sick when he got hurt."

It goes beyond 14.7 points and 3.8 assists in production, of course. Dinwiddie was Colorado's rock. Now, they're leaning more heavily on Askia Booker, the undersized gunner who's never seen a shot he doesn't like. But CU coach Tad Boyle is preaching positivity over everything.


"It's the confidence and swagger Spencer brought to our team that is going to have to be developed," he said. "I think the two guys who shoulders the leadership is going to fall on is Askia Booker and Josh Scott. When those bumps in the road come, it's imperative you're positive both with yourselves and with your teammates."

Boyle wants Booker to only take good shots. He wants Scott, who is scoring 14.3 points and grabbing 9.1 rebounds per game, to help Booker carry the leadership load piled onto their backs. Colorado has turned to freshman guard Jaron Hopkins -- shout out to Dobson High School -- to use his long frame on the defensive end. Getting 10 points from Hopkins, like CU did in a win Saturday against USC, was a bonus.

Booker is now the emotional leader.

Maybe he's too emotional at times, even. Boyle said his combo guard, who averages 13.5 points but is shooting a tad under 40 percent, has to keep his emotions in check. After going 0-for-9 in the Washington game that Dinwiddie got injured in, Booker has shot 10-for-16 in his last two, which CU split.

"Let's be frank, he's a little guy," Boyle said. "He feels like he can get a shot, and he really can get a shot any time he wants. The big thing with him is shot selection."

The loss of Dinwiddie and his 42 percent three-point shooting makes Colorado a tad more one-dimensional, but they do have the horses to make it tough on Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon. The 6'10 Scott, 6'7 sophomore Xavier Johnson and 6'9 freshman Wesley Gordon join Booker as three of the top four scorers on Colorado.

CU also runs out some bench weapons such as guards Eli Stalzer, George King and Xavier Talton, all of whom have seen their workloads increase of late.

At this point, the keys for the Wildcats seem repetitive. They'll need to survive if the Buffs get hot playing hero ball a la Drexel, but at home that shouldn't be a huge issue. Miller's pack-line defense will be glad CU isn't going to pose much of an outside threat so long as the shots are contested, so then the worry comes in outmuscling the big men inside.

The Colorado big men aren't as adept with their interior passing, and then it simply comes down to the Wildcats getting open looks themselves.

By the numbers

  • How good was Dinwiddie? He was shooting 51.5 percent from two-point range, 41.3 percent from three and shooting 87.2 percent at the foul stripe while getting there seven times a game. According to College Sports Reference, his offensive rating was off the charts at 136 points per 100 possessions.
  • Even with Dinwiddie, Colorado wasn't playing like the challenger to Arizona many thought they'd be. They needed overtime to win 71-70 at Wazzu, and their win over top-10 Oregon looks less impressive by the day. Losses to ranked Baylor and Oklahoma State aren't bad, and a win against Kansas is pretty great, but now it's about how they turn the tide. According to John Gasaway's point per possession statistics, the Buffs are pretty much the Pac-12 league average.

Remembering Sabatino

Colorado fans had right to quibble about Sabatino Chen's shot being waved off early last January. The three-point attempt was drilled, then nixed thanks to some low-def reply televisions, and the Wildcats used the McKale Center crowd to pull away in overtime.

I said it then and I'll say it again now. You don't put yourself in position to lose at the hands of the officials. Josh Scott sort of reiterated that idea to the Daily Camera in a preview for the Buffs' return to McKale.

"We were up 15 with six minutes (to go)," said Scott, now a sophomore. "To blow it like that, to be honest, yeah, you're upset that the shot was (supposed to be) good, but at the same time we didn't deserve it. We blew a 15-point lead, so it should have never come down to that shot.

"It may have been - I hate to say it - karma for blowing a 15-point lead."

Linkage

Adam Butler of PacHoops caught up with some Colorado folk to discuss the Buffs' hoops season so far.

Quotable

Sean Miller of how he charts 50-50 balls and hustle plays: "We emphasize it, talk a lot about it. I don't know if we necessarily have a statistic to back it up. (Offensive rebounds percentage) really reflects aggressiveness, talent and size.

Tad Boyle on T.J. McConnell: He just seems to be one of those guys that cares about winning. Hard to quantify in just one sentence or one word.

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