By Kyle Koso
Sometimes, a college basketball program can provide good theater for its supporters.
For the Colorado women’s team, there’s already been a fair bit of drama and a bunch of improvising, the inevitable result of a key player going down with an injury before the first formal day of fall practice. The Buffaloes aren’t acting like it’s an easy problem to solve, but they also figure no one will be standing in line when it comes to offering sympathy.
The simple fact is, junior Arielle Roberson tore the ACL in her left knee during routine drills in early October, stripping Colorado of a critical option in its attack. Roberson, the Pac-12 freshmen of the year in 2012-13, averaged 12.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season and kept things steady when other players were shelved with injuries. Colorado hopes the return to health of some players can ease the pain of Roberson’s setback.
"When a player like Arielle goes down, folks start licking their chops. An injury can demoralize you, or you can get tougher and play more inspired," said CU coach Linda Lappe, whose team was 19-15 last year and reached the third round of the Postseason WNIT. "It can bring you together – we are focusing on building a team from the ground up on offense and defense, like we are every year. Our younger kids are getting a lot of reps, and we have time to tweak things.
"Arielle has a special competitive fire and tenacity that’s hard to replace. She sat her freshman year because of injury, so she never took playing time for granted. Those are things that are controllable, in that other players can show those intangibles."
The rotation required to solve Roberson’s absence will surely include Jasmine Sborov (a 5-11 senior guard) and Jen Reese (a 6-2 senior forward), both of whom missed time last year. Sborov has a nose for rebounding from the backcourt and gives CU a desperately needed asset as a 3-point shooter; Reese came through to the tune of 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and will certainly be looking to build on those achievements.
"Man, it was a huge shocker. We were happy to have everyone healthy, and then it happened," said Sborov, who missed 20 games with a broken bone in her right foot. "It’s a huge loss for us, but we’ve regrouped and we are working hard to encourage the younger players. Right now, we’re playing and fighting for her, and I for sure understand the feeling.
"We are focusing on what we can control. When I was hurt, I didn’t like being in that position, but I became a better leader and student of the game. It opened my eyes to what I don’t always see when I’m on the floor. It’s a coach’s perspective, and it’s all made me super hungry."
Reese brings a significant edge in terms of her hoops I.Q. and is not the type to get rattled during the long grind of the season. As roles and strengths are re-defined with Roberson out, Reese will be asked to do plenty.
"I don’t like to force things, but I do see that I’m going to have to score more," Reese said. "At the same time, we’ll have different players scoring from different spots. We are just focusing on (today); we’ve got to build that chemistry and work to get to the point where we can be great during the season."
A look at the 2013-14 numbers reveals one other area of concern for the Buffs, who in the wide-open Pac-12 shot just under 30 percent from 3-point range as a team. Empty possessions and long rebounds hauled in by the opposition can make it hard to control matters.
"That (shooting percentage) was very low, and part of that was because our inside game was not effective enough on the block. Some of our posts were scoring from more like 15 feet out, or through the motion offense," Lappe said. "If you are strong in the paint, shooters can get their shots easier than having to run off screens all the time or shooting contested 3’s. Another thing is players just getting into the gym more and taking shots at game speed. Our (percentage) should be better this year.
"Our overall strength is our strength – we looked great in the weight room in the offseason. We are very tough down low, and we are long this year, too. We’ve got 6-1, 6-2 guards with long arms who can cover a lot of space."
The ink isn’t quite dry on the new script, but CU still likes what it can do onstage.