Expect an emotional night Thursday at the Coors Events Center.
The Pac-12 Conference men's basketball battle between the Colorado Buffaloes and Washington State features two schools whose athletic programs have been rocked by tragedy this week.
On Monday, CU announced that senior lacrosse player Julia Sarcona had died two days previous in a single-car accident on Boulder Canyon Road. On Tuesday evening reports began surfacing that WSU redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski had committed suicide.
As of Wednesday late afternoon, CU head coach Tad Boyle had not addressed the emotional aspect likely to play a role in Thursday night's contest. However, he did say it was something he planned to discuss with his team during their game day shoot-around.
"Number one, being thankful for everything that we have in terms of our health and where we are," Boyle said. "It's a tragedy certainly what happened up in Pullman and certainly it's a tragedy what happened to Julia in Boulder Canyon last Saturday. Our hearts certainly go out to the Washington State community and their football program and what they're going through. Obviously our lacrosse program is the same.
"Our hearts and prayers are with them. It is emotional. But it kind of brings things into perspective in terms of what's important. We can't ever forget that."
The Buffs will wear patches with Sarcona's initials and her No. 15 jersey number for Thursday's game as well as during Saturday's home game against Washington. Additionally, a moment of silence will be held before the WSU game in honor of both Sarcona and Hilinski.
Namon settling in
With his ability to create his own shot and finish at the basket, junior guard Namon Wright has given the Buffaloes' attack an added dimension.
Clearly CU has been a more versatile team with Wright in the starting lineup. However, due to early lapses in the two areas Boyle values the most — defense and rebounding — Wright found himself relegated to a bench role after failing to grab a single rebound in 25 minutes in a loss at Colorado State on Dec. 2.
Wright had started six of the first seven games of the season, but he seemingly has responded since that tough day in Fort Collins. After averaging a team-best 5.2 rebounds during his final season at Missouri two years ago, Wright averaged just 2.9 rebounds in his first seven games with the Buffs (through Colorado State). In the 11 games since, Wright has averaged 4.5 rebounds per game. Wright has started the past three games, and in CU's six Pac-12 games he has shot .491 (28-for-57) from the floor with a .429 mark on 3-pointers (9-for-21).
"I think I took a step backward in terms of production offensive rebound-wise, defensive rebound-wise, in L.A. I think I had four each (game)," Wright said. "If I can get six a game I know that will help my teammates a lot and give my coaches a lot of confidence in me.
"I think I was just thinking too much (earlier this year). Me, I'm a thinker. I can make myself think too much. For me, it's just relaxing and playing the game of basketball. I'm athletic, I've got long arms, there should be no reason why I don't get five, six, seven rebounds a game."
After breaking out with a 3-for-4 effort in the Buffs' upset win against Arizona on Jan. 6, freshman guard D'Shawn Schwartz credited some extra shooting sessions with associate head coach Mike Rohn for ending the slump that had marked the early stages of his CU career.
Schwartz has continued to make the most of his opportunities since, going 4-for-6 on 3-pointers over the past three games after making just 5 of 19 through his first 15 games. Schwartz said those extra sessions with Rohn were less about making mechanical adjustments than regaining confidence in his conditioning.
"It was pretty much just about getting shots up while I was tired, just getting not really high reps, just tired shots. Getting a lot up in a little bit of time," Schwartz said. "That really helped, I think. I've just got to tell myself that if I'm a shooter, that's what I've got to do and know the next one is going to go down. I'm just making sure I'm staying sharp and getting shots up every day."