CU men's hoops preview
SUNDAY: Colorado Buffaloes (11-12, 4-7 Pac-12) vs. Stanford Cardinal (16-8, 7-5), 2 p.m. MST at Coors Events Center in Boulder.
BROADCAST: Radio — KOA (850 AM). TV — Fox Sports 1
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 5th year (103-62; 159-127 career); Stanford — Johnny Dawkins, 7th year (133-95).
PROBABLE STARTERS: Colorado — G Askia Booker, 6-2, Sr. (17.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.3 apg); G Dominique Collier, 6-2, Fr. (3.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg); F Dustin Thomas, 6-7, So. (4.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.2 apg); F Wesley Gordon, 6-9, So. (7.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg); F Josh Scott, 6-10, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 apg). Stanford — G Chasson Randle, 6-2, Sr. (19.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg); G Marcus Allen, 6-3, So. (4.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G/F Anthony Brown, 6-6, Sr. (15.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.8 apg); F Rosco Allen, 6-9, Jr. (8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg); C Stefan Nastic, 6-11, Sr. (13.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
NOTABLE: CU is riding a three-game losing streak. ... The Buffs have lost two in a row at home for the first time under Boyle. ... They are looking to avoid their first three-game home skid since a five-game streak during the 2008-09 season. That streak, however, had several road games in between. The last time CU lost three consecutive games in the same homestand was in the 2003-04 season. ... CU is 6-9 all-time against Stanford, but 4-3 in Boulder. CU has won the last three games in the series. ... The Buffs are below the .500 mark for the first time since starting the 2013-14 season at 0-1. ... Stanford is 1-3 in its last four games, including a 75-59 loss at Utah on Thursday. ...
The Colorado men's basketball team hasn't played well of late, and neither has junior Xavier Johnson.
The combination of the two has Johnson frustrated.
"Hell yeah," he said. "I'm pissed off."
Colorado (11-12, 4-7 Pac-12) is sputtering like never before in Johnson's career, and Johnson is going through his toughest personal stretch, too.
"My frustration is from me not being able to perform like I usually do," he said.
On Jan. 7, at Utah, Johnson suffered a high sprain to his right ankle. Although he's been back for four games, his production has dropped off significantly. Coach Tad Boyle said Johnson's conditioning is not great, and Johnson admits his ankle is not 100 percent healed.
"It's frustrating when you can't do things you're used to doing," he said. "I feel like with ankle sprains at this point, I just need to rest it, but there's no time to rest it, because we're practicing every day and if I don't practice it means I can't play."
Johnson's play, however, hasn't measured up to the bar he set early in the season.
Through 14 games, Johnson was enjoying his best season, averaging 13.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 48.3 percent from the floor, 40.9 percent from 3-point range and a career-best 74.1 percent from the free throw line. The Buffs were 9-5 at that time.
"Up until the injury, I thought Xavier was having a good year," Boyle said. "I thought he was one of our more consistent guys effort-wise and production-wise."
Johnson was injured six minutes into the game at Utah and then he missed four games. Since he returned, he has posted just 6.5 points per game while connecting on nine of 35 shots (25.7 percent). The Buffs are 2-7 since Johnson got hurt.
"Since the injury, it just hasn't been there," Boyle said.
Because he hasn't been producing like normal, Johnson's playing time has dipped and his frustration has increased.
"I just feel like there's a lot of different things happening," he said. "Now that we're in the face of adversity, I feel like certain aspects are changing and it's messing up the flow.
"At this point, I can't really blame the coaches, because if I was a coach, I wouldn't know what to do, either. It's not like it's their fault or anything. I'm just saying we're in a struggling period right now, so coach is just trying to figure out new things and just trying everything. He's starting different lineups and trying different things."
A starter in 64 of 68 games (dating back to his freshman year) before his injury, Johnson has started just one of the four games since returning, and in Thursday's 68-61 loss to Cal, he was on the bench for the final five minutes.
"I have to make choices on who to play, and quite frankly, there's about four guys who, for the most part, I know what I'm going to get," Boyle said. "The rest of them, it's like musical chairs. On any given night, you don't know who is going to show up."
Prior to his injury, Johnson was one of the reliable players. If the Buffs are going to salvage anything from this season, he knows he has to become reliable again — not only with his production and effort, but with his emotions.
Johnson may not be 100 percent healthy, but he admits his frustration might be slowing him down as much or more than his sore ankle.
"Before I got hurt, I was killing it," he said. "Now I have to get that back. It's mostly mental. If I get back to that mental aspect of domination and kill, I should be all right.
"I just have to do my part. I need to get back to my leadership role and playing for the team and not myself. People (on the team) react to how I react, and if I react negatively they might do the same.
"I need to be a junior and lead."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.