CU men's hoops preview

SUNDAY: The Colorado Buffaloes (17-6, 6-4 Pac-12) host the Washington Huskies (13-10, 5-5) in a 6 p.m. game at Coors Events Center in Boulder.

BROADCAST:

Radio — KOA (850 AM), with Mark Johnson on play-by-play and Scott Wilke providing color commentary. TV — ESPNU, with Roxy Bernstein and Corey Williams on the call.

STORYLINES: CU is seeking a third consecutive win. The Buffs are 2-0 on a current three-game homestand. ... The Buffs defeated Washington State 68-63 on Wednesday. Askia Booker had 26 points, five assists and three steals in the win. ... Washington has lost two in a row, including 78-69 at Utah on Thursday. ... The Buffs are 14-1 at home this season and 58-8 during head coach Tad Boyle's four seasons. ... Washington has lost five consecutive road games. The Huskies are 2-7 away from home this season. ... Washington won the first meeting between these teams, 71-54 on Jan. 12. CU lost star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending knee injury during the first half of that game. The Buffs led 25-22 at the time, but were outscored 49-29 the rest of the way.


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... During Pac-12 play, CU leads the conference in rebounding margin (plus-4.5) and blocked shots (5.2 per game). ... CU's Wesley Gordon leads the Pac-12 with 3.4 offensive rebounds per game during conference play. ... The Buffs are 10-1 (8-0 at home) in games decided by single digits. ... Wednesday's game against Washington State was the first time since the 1995-96 season that three players from Colorado high schools were in the starting lineup for CU. That trio — Gordon, Josh Scott and Xavier Talton — are expected to start again Sunday.

KEY STAT: Colorado is allowing a conference-worst 8.5 3-pointers per game during Pac-12 play. Washington has made 5.4 per game, but had nine against the Buffs on Jan. 12. The Huskies' C.J. Wilcox had seven of those.

COACHES: Tad Boyle is 86-44 in his fourth season at CU and 142-110 for his career. Lorenzo Romar is 250-131 in his 12th season at Washington and 343-219 for his career.

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Colorado — G Xavier Talton, 6-2, So. (3.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.6 apg); G Askia Booker, 6-2, Jr. (14.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg); F Wesley Gordon, 6-9, Fr. (6.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg); F Xavier Johnson, 6-7, So. (10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg); F Josh Scott, 6-10, So. (13.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg). Washington — G C.J. Wilcox, 6-5, Sr.; G Nigel Williams-Goss, 6-3, Fr.; G Andrew Andrews, 6-2, So.; G Mike Anderson, 6-4, Jr.; F Perris Blackwell, 6-9, Sr.

SERIES: Washington leads 9-7, but CU is 5-1 against the Huskies in Boulder. Washington is 2-1 against the Buffs since CU joined the Pac-12, but all three games were won by the home team.

UP NEXT: CU will visit UCLA on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Throughout the majority of his career, Askia Booker has been a shoot-first guard for the Colorado men's basketball team.

During the past month, however, Booker has altered his game to fit the needs of the Buffaloes.

"I have to find the balance between scoring the ball and distributing the ball," Booker said. "I think I'm finding that balance now."

Booker and all of his teammates had to adjust their thinking and, in many cases, their roles on Jan. 12. That's the day that star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and freshman reserve Tre'Shaun Fletcher went down with injuries to their left knees. Dinwiddie is out for the year, while Fletcher hopes to return later this season.

The Buffs (17-6, 6-4 Pac-12) lost that game at Washington (13-10, 5-5) and have spent the past four weeks adjusting.

"Since that day, we've understood that for us to be successful we have to do it together," CU head coach Tad Boyle said.

On Sunday, the Buffs get a rematch with Washington. The Huskies are sure to see a much different CU team than the one that played in Seattle. The Buffs, with Dinwiddie, led the Huskies. Without him during the final 22 minutes, they were shell-shocked and got routed.

"We did get blown out at their place, and we haven't forgot about it, but we have moved on," Booker said. "I think we're a lot better team than we were, without Spencer at the time, and I think we'll be prepared for them."

Perhaps more than anybody else, Booker has had to change his way of thinking, and his ability to adapt might be the best example of how the Buffs have reinvented themselves.

Booker's shot totals haven't gone down much — he attempted 11.6 shots per game with Dinwiddie and 11.2 without him — but his offensive efficiency has improved dramatically.

During the first 17 games of the year, Booker made just 38.1 percent of his shots, and averaged 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. In the past six games, he's connected on 47.8 percent of his shots while averaging 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. His scoring average has gone from 13.1 points per game to 16.5.

"I love it. The ball is probably in my hands 65 percent of the time," Booker said. "I'm pushing it on the break, and I'm pushing it even when (the opponents) make it. I'm trying to get easy baskets, whether it be for myself or for my teammates. That's my mindset now is to free my teammates up — draw the attention because (the defense is) going to put so much attention on me. When everybody comes to me, my teammates are open and hopefully they can knock down shots."

In addition to Booker, Josh Scott has become a big-time leader for the Buffs on and off the court. He may be the best big man in the Pac-12.

Xavier Johnson has gained consistency he's never had as a Buff. He's averaged 14.8 points the last five games and has been in double figures all five games. He's also averaged 9.5 rebounds on CU's current two-game home stand.

In addition to those three, Xavier Talton has taken over a starting role and he's been productive in recent games; Jaron Hopkins found some comfort coming off the bench on Wednesday against Washington State; and Dustin Thomas, Eli Stalzer and George King have all given the Buffs a lift off the bench.

"We are getting to know where guys are going to be, what to expect out of guys, how hard they're going to play, when to get them the ball and where to get them the ball," Booker said.

No question, the Buffs are still a work in progress. Four weeks, in the grand scheme of things, is not a long time to completely get comfortable without two key players. But, so far, the Buffs are making strides.

"Coach says something that's very important and he's said it since Day 1: Do your job," Booker said. "I think everybody is trying to do their job now. They're accepting their role, especially without Spencer. The margin for error is a lot smaller. At that point, everybody has to accept their role now and they have to do it very well."

Four weeks in, the Buffs are learning to do that, and they hope they're figuring it out just in time for a strong finish.

"Yeah, we went through little ups and downs at first, but I think everybody is coming together," Thomas said. "Everybody is starting to get comfortable without having Spencer on the court.

"I think we'll be all right."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/brianhowell33.