CU men's basketball preview: UConn Huskies
MATCHUP: No. 9 UConn Huskies (24-10) vs. No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes (22-11) in first round of NCAA Tournament.
GAME TIME: 11:30 a.m. MDT, Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa.
BROADCAST: TV — TNT; Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: UConn — Kevin Ollie, fourth season (96-43 at UConn and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, sixth season (130-79, 186-145 overall).
LEADERS: UConn — Scoring: F Shonn Miller, Sr., 12.8 ppg; Rebounding: G/F Daniel Hamilton, So., 8.9 rpg; Assists: Hamilton, 4.8 apg. Colorado — Scoring: F/C Josh Scott, Sr., 16.1 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 8.7 rpg; Assists: 2.7 apg.
NOTABLE: This will be the first time the Buffs have ever played UConn. ... Each team led its respective conference in free-throw shooting, with UConn also leading the country at .787. CU's mark of .738 sits as the fifth-best single-season percentage in program history. ... The teams' only common opponent this season was SMU. UConn split a pair of league games against the Mustangs, with the home team winning each game. The Buffs suffered a 70-66 loss against SMU on a neutral floor in December. ... The Buffs also were a No. 8 seed in their most recent tourney appearance, losing by 29 points in the first round against Pitt. ... The winner gets a likely date against top-seeded Kansas in the second round on Saturday.
DES MOINES, Iowa — The Colorado Buffaloes have been here before.
They have shown throughout the season that they can play with the top teams in the nation. They boast several of the strengths that typically lead to victories in March, such as strong rebounding and solid free-throw shooting. They feature NCAA Tournament experience up and down the roster and have touted team chemistry as a critical component since the preseason.
So now it's just a matter of playing their game.
Returning to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus, the eighth-seeded Buffaloes will make their fourth tourney appearance in five seasons when they take on ninth-seeded UConn Thursday at the Wells Fargo Arena (11:30 a.m. MDT, TNT).
In a matchup of teams with similar profiles, CU head coach Tad Boyle wants his Buffs to simply focus on the things they do well.
"We have to understand what our strengths are as a team, and what our weaknesses are, and we have to play to those strengths," Boyle said. "When you get to this stage, get to this point of the season, you can't try to be something that you're not. That's one of the things we try to talk to our players about — look, we don't have to do anything special. We just have to play Colorado basketball and play it to the best of our abilities.
"If we do that, if we play together, we have a chance to beat anybody in this tournament. But we have to play well. You have to play well when your best is needed."
The last time the Buffs arrived at the NCAA Tournament for a similar eight-nine matchup two years ago, the result was an abject disaster. Missing star guard Spencer Dinwiddie after a January knee injury, the Buffs faltered out of the gate and never recovered, making a quick and embarrassing exit with a 29-point loss against Pitt.
Avoiding that sort of early stumble — a scenario that also doomed CU last week in a loss against Arizona in the Pac-12 Conference tournament — has been a focal point of practice all week.
"I feel like we've had very chippy, crisp practices for the most part. Which is a good thing," senior forward Josh Scott said. "I think it just shows that the guys care and they aren't glad just making it to the tournament. They want to win games. I think that's important and I think that's a difference from the time we were here before."
Taking advantage of offensive opportunities will be paramount for CU against a team that led the American Athletic Conference in defensive field goal percentage at .382 — a mark that ranks third nationally.
UConn allows only 63.1 points per game and surrendered an average of 60 per game in the Huskies' victorious final two games of the AAC tournament. Excluding a wild four-overtime affair in their conference tournament opener, the Huskies have surrendered just 55.3 points in their other three most recent games.
"We have got to be able to make shots, but in order to make shots you've got to be able to get shots," Boyle said. "The way we have to get shots is take care of the basketball. We have to play through our bigs. We fully expect UConn to double the post. If they don't, we're going to go to work.
"But we expect them to double-team those guys. We have to move the ball quickly to get a great shot. We're going to have to make some jump shots to beat UConn, and we're going to have to rebound the ball to beat UConn."