CU men's basketball preview: Cal
MATCHUP: Cal Golden Bears (14-7, 4-4 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (16-5, 5-3).
GAME TIME: Sunday, 3 p.m., Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: Radio — 850 AM; TV — Fox Sports 1.
COACHES: Cal — Cuonzo Martin, second season (32-22, 156-104 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, sixth season (124-73, 180-139).
LEADERS: Cal — Scoring: F Jaylen Brown, Fr., 15.5 ppg; Rebounding: F Ivan Rabb, Fr., 8.5 rpg; Assists: G Sam Singer, Jr., 2.4 apg. Colorado — Scoring: F Josh Scott, Sr., 17.3 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 9.7 rpg; Assists: G Dom Collier, So., 3.3 apg.
Notable: The Buffs are hosting an "Apke Era" basketball alumni reunion and will honor former coach Tom Apke on Sunday...CU shot a season-low .318 (21-for-66) during its Jan. 1 loss at Cal...The Golden Bears snapped a six-game losing streak in Boulder with a 68-61 win last year at the Coors Events Center....CU redshirt sophomore George King has knocked down 14-of-19 3-pointers over the past four games...Since enduring a three-game drought without an assist, Collier has produced 23 assists with just seven turnovers in the past six games.
Not long after the dust has settled from Sunday's battle between the Colorado Buffaloes and Cal, the calendar will flip from January to February.
On the college basketball calendar, that means phrases such as Ratings Percentage Index and Bracketology take on much greater relevance.
There will be just nine regular-season games remaining after the Buffs' rematch against a Cal squad that handed CU a 14-point defeat in the Pac-12 Conference opener on New Year's Day.
In any current assessment of NCAA Tournament projections, CU is in fine shape. As of early Saturday afternoon, the latest set of RPI rankings put forth by the NCAA had the Buffs at No. 20. This week ESPN tournament guru Joe Lunardi had CU projected as a No. 10 seed.
Simply put, CU is in firm control of its own destiny. Yet in a Pac-12 Conference that could easily send eight teams into the Big Dance, those fortunes can change in a matter of days.
"They're all crucial, and all you can do is take them one at a time," senior forward Josh Scott said. "Not to sound arrogant or cocky, but with where we're at, I don't think we had as good a record this time of the year when we went to the tournament my first two years here. So really it's just about taking every game one by one."
That challenge begins Sunday against Cal, which dominated CU in the teams' previous meeting but has struggled on the road while dealing with a key injury. The Golden Bears will be without starting guard Tyrone Wallace, a catalyst of Cal's previous win against CU, who broke his hand early last week. The Bears also have struggled on the road, dropping all four of their road matches in league play while sporting a 1-7 mark overall away from home.
It is the sort of opportunity the Buffs need to take advantage of in order to continue cementing their NCAA Tournament credentials.
"It's not an eight-game league schedule, it's an 18-game league schedule," head coach Tad Boyle said. "We haven't done anything yet. Some of the greatest pleasures in life come from doing things people say you can't do, and people picked us seventh in this league. We've got to make sure we don't finish in seventh. We want to finish better than that. We have a chance to compete for a league championship...we have a chance to do that with 10 games to go.
"Our guys are smart enough, and they're a veteran group, to know it's not done yet. We have a lot of work to do."
While Cal has been somewhat hot-and-cold offensively, it brings one of the league's stingiest defenses to the Coors Events Center. Heading into Saturday's action around the Pac-12, Cal held the league lead in defensive field goal percentage (.388) and overall scoring defense (66.8).
Curiously, Cal ranks 11th in 3-point defensive percentage (.358), an area that could be exploited by a CU team that leads the league in 3-point shooting (.409). The Buffs are coming off a 13-for-19 performance from 3-point range in Wednesday's win against Stanford.
"We still really want to attack the basket and get the ball in the paint," Boyle said. "We're going to get some threes, we're going to take some threes, and hopefully we make some threes. But we want to play the same way we always play, which is inside-out. Hopefully we're making some threes like we were the other night, but we know Cal is a great defensive team."