CU men's basketball preview

THURSDAY: Colorado Buffaloes (9-6, 2-1 Pac-12) at No. 10 Arizona Wildcats (14-2, 2-1), 7 p.m. at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

BROADCAST: Radio — KOA (850 AM). TV — ESPN.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, fifth year (101-56; 157-122 career); Arizona — Sean Miller, sixth year (143-50; 262-97 career).

PROBABLE STARTERS: Colorado — G Askia Booker, 6-2, Sr. (15.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg); G Jaron Hopkins, 6-6, So. (6.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg); G Xavier Johnson, 6-7, Jr. (12.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Wesley Gordon, 6-9, So. (7.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg); F Josh Scott, 6-10, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg). Arizona — G T.J. McConnell, 6-1, Jr. (8.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.9 apg); F Stanley Johnson, 6-7, Fr. (13.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 spg); F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6-7, So. (11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg); F Brandon Ashley, 6-9, Jr. (11.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg); C Kaleb Tarczewski, 7-0, Jr. (8.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg).


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NOTABLE: Both teams are coming off a loss. CU lost at Utah, 74-49 on Jan. 7, while Arizona was upset at Oregon State, 58-56, on Sunday. ... The all-time series is tied 11-11, with Arizona holding a 6-3 edge since CU joined the Pac-12. ... Arizona is 9-0 at home and is riding a 30-game home win streak. CU is 0-4 in true road games. ... CU is 60th nationally (out of more than 350 schools) in field-goal percentage defense, allowing just 39.2 percent. Arizona, meanwhile, is 14th nationally with a field-goal percentage of 49.3. ... Dating back to 1973, the Buffs are 0-39 on the road against Top-10 teams. ... According to Kenpom.com, Arizona is seventh nationally in defensive efficiency and 27th in offensive efficiency. CU is 56th defensively and 135th offensively.

The Colorado men's basketball team might go into the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday night with two of its best players in street clothes.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, the Buffaloes weren't ready to make excuses. CU (9-6, 2-1 Pac-12) has to take on 10th-ranked Arizona (14-2, 2-1) regardless.

"The one thing you learn in college athletics, and it's one of the things I've tried to get our team to understand, is that you've got to control the things you can control," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "That's what we concentrate on. We don't make excuses for who's playing and who's not playing. I think they're capable players. Sometimes people get thrown into situations, and we may have that this weekend."

Junior Xavier Johnson suffered a high sprain to his right ankle in a 74-49 loss to Utah on Jan. 7, and he hasn't practiced this week.

Junior Josh Scott has been dealing with back spasms for a few weeks. He missed two games because of it, and then played against Utah. He clearly wasn't healthy in that game, though, and has been held out practice over the past week.

"They're getting better every day," Boyle said.

Whether or not they'll be ready for Thursday won't be determined until close to game time.

For Scott, it's been a frustrating process. He began feeling pain in his lower back before the Buffs' trip to the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu last month.

"It's frustrating not being able to be out there and compete and be with your teammates," he said. "It's been very tough."

Scott managed just three points and two rebounds against Utah. Still, he logged a team-high 28 minutes, despite being in pain throughout the night.

"A little bit," Scott said when asked if he was surprised by how many minutes he played against the Utes. "But you know, even if I'm not all the way there, I was at least happy I was getting the chance to compete. But, it's tough not to be able to play at your full ability."

Boyle said he asked Scott if Scott could go back in the game during the second half, and Scott gave him the OK. According to Boyle, there's no risk of further injury by playing Scott.

"It's pain related; it's how much can he handle," Boyle said.

Scott did play well defensively against the Utes, but wasn't moving as well as he usually does.

"It's a realization that I probably just need to get healthy," Scott said.

Long-term issues are often a concern with back injuries, but Scott said he believes he will get healthy soon.

"Everybody's told me it's something that is healing and getting better," he said. "I'm getting really good treatment and really good opinions from doctors. Hopefully, it'll be kicked out of my system soon."

The Buffs could certainly use a healthy Scott and/or Johnson against the Wildcats. Scott is second on the team in scoring (13.8 points per game) and leads the team in rebounding (7.2). Johnson is third in scoring (12.8 points per game) and third in rebounding (5.4).

Without them, the Buffs face a tougher task, but senior guard Askia Booker said it's not an impossible task.

"We've had these past few days where we haven't had either one of them and we've been playing just fine; we've been competing as hard as we've ever competed in practice," Booker said.

"I think they're going to be prepared, but so are we."

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.