BOULDER - If the Colorado Buffaloes are to make a run at the Pac-12 Conference regular-season championship and earn a school-record third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, it will have to be done without point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
The 6-6 junior’s 2013-14 season is over, ended by an ACL injury that will require surgery when swelling subsides in his left knee. The injury was suffered in the first half of Sunday afternoon’s Pac-12 Conference loss at Washington, and the prognosis that the Buffs and their fans dreaded was delivered Monday afternoon when Dinwiddie underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam.
“It’s a big blow for him . . . he’s worked so hard to put himself in the position he has and help lead this team to where we are today,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “To have that all taken away from you in one basketball play is . . . it’s tough.”
It was equally tough, Boyle said, for Dinwiddie’s teammates: “They’re hurting. No. 1, we’ve got a close, tight-knit team. We’ve got great chemistry on this team. Guys care about each other. From that standpoint, the team’s hurting. There’s no question in my mind they’re a resilient group of guys, high-character guys. One guy goes down the opportunity for two or three more opens. We’re going to control what we can control, which is our attitude and effort every day in practice. That’s all you can do in life.”
After Sunday’s game, sophomore post Josh Scott called Dinwiddie “a big part, not the whole part, but he’s a big part of what we do. It’s just an adjustment and we’re going to have to figure out how to do that without him.”
Dinwiddie can expect a complete recovery, said Boyle, but he refrained from offering a timeline because the rehabilitation of ACL injuries differs from athlete to athlete. After receiving the news, said Boyle, Dinwiddie was “great . . . he’s controlling the things he can control – which are his attitude and effort. Get the swelling out of the knee and the surgery will happen when the doctors feel it’s appropriate. Then the rehab starts.”
Boyle credited Dinwiddie for his maturity, noting the player was “handling it very well. He’s going to be better because of it. He’s going to have a full and complete recovery. That’s the good news. It’s not a situation where he’s going to come back and be 80 percent. He’s going to be 100 percent when he comes back, whenever that is. I don’t know how long, I don’t know what the time frame is in terms of the recovery. It’s not going to be an easy rehab, but he’ll be fine.”
So, too, might be the Buffs – if they understand their top scorer and floor leader can’t be replaced by a single player. Boyle used the analogy of CU having to replace last season’s No. 2 nationally ranked rebounder when Andre Roberson declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. The 2013-14 Buffs, said Boyle, are a better rebounding team than last season because that role has been taken on by committee.
“Everybody thought we’d have trouble rebounding because Andre’s gone, and guess what?” noted Boyle. “We’re a better rebounding team today than we were last year with the second-best rebounder in the country on our team. So everybody stepped up and everybody has to do that with Spencer out. Not one person is going to replace him . . . with everybody stepping up their game up a little bit, we can lessen the blow.”
Dinwiddie, of Woodland Hills, Calif., was CU’S leader in scoring (14.7 ppg), assists (64, 3.8 apg) and steals (26, 1.5 spg). He also led the Buffs in 3-pointers (26) and free throw shooting percentage (85.7).
In his 21/2 seasons, Dinwiddie already had worked his way into the top five in two CU career categories – No. 3 in free throw percentage (420-of-506, 83 percent) and No. 4 in 3-point field goal percentage (115-of-298, 38.6 percent). He had been recognized nationally, making the Top 50 watch lists for the Cousy, Naismith and Wooden Awards.
Boyle said the Buffs, who meet UCLA on Thursday at the Coors Events Center (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network), will focus on that game and not how they must adapt to Dinwiddie’s loss over the next two months. “What I told the team is that we don’t have to beat every team without Spencer,” Boyle said. “We have to figure out a way to beat UCLA without Spencer. That’s all we’ve got to do. Nothing changes in our preparation and in what we’re going to try to do. We’re down a man and everybody else has to step up.”
Beginning with the Bruins, the only Pac-12 opponent the Buffs have not defeated (0-2), Boyle said Dinwiddie’s injury is of little consequence to the rest of the league: “Nobody . . . really cares. They’re not going to take pity on the Buffaloes. I can promise you that. UCLA is going to come in there Thursday trying to get a road win. We’ve got to make sure we compete our tails off, scratch and claw, do everything we have to do to try to beat them.”
Figuring to share Dinwiddie’s minutes are freshman Jaron Hopkins, who already has logged more court time than any of Boyle’s first-year players, and sophomores Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer. Said Boyle: “All three capable of taking care of the ball and getting us in our offense . . . they’re good team guys who shoot it, dribble it and pass it.
“We don’t have the star system here. Spencer was our leading scorer and leading assist guy, he led us in steals. There’s no question he was important to our team. I’m not trying to minimize this loss, but I just want our players to realize they’re here for a reason: they’re capable as well. When one guy goes down, the door opens for one, or in this case, maybe two or three more.”
Dinwiddie went down when his left knee buckled with 2:51 left in the first half at Washington’s Alaska Airlines Arena. No other player was around him. At the time, CU was leading 25-22, and Dinwiddie had scored seven points, with one assist.
At halftime, the Buffs still led 29-26, but with Andrew Andrews and C.J. Wilcox opening the second half with 3-pointers, the Huskies outscored the Buffs 6-1 in the first 2 minutes and took a 32-30 lead. CU never caught up and suffered its first Pac-12 loss of the season, 71-54.
Wilcox, guarded mostly by Dinwiddie in the first half and held to 10 points, erupted for 21 in the second half – including 13 in the first 6 minutes – and finished with a career-high 31.
In Monday’s national polls, the Buffs (14-3, 3-1) slipped from No. 15/17 to No. 21 in the Associated Press weekly rankings and No. 22 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll. CU has been ranked for six consecutive weeks in the AP poll – the longest since eight straight weeks in 1997 – and for five consecutive weeks by the coaches.