CU men's basketball preview: Stanford
MATCHUP: Stanford Cardinal (14-14, 6-10 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (16-13, 6-10).
GAME TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: Stanford — Jerod Haase, 1st season (14-14, 94-67 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (146-93, 202-159 overall).
LEADERS: Stanford — Scoring: F Reid Travis, Jr., 17.7 ppg; Rebounding: Travis, 8.8 rpg; Assists: G Robert Cartwright, So., 3.4 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 17.3 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., and G George King, Jr., 6.9 rpg; Assists: White, 4.1 apg.
NOTABLE: Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Buffs still can finish anywhere between seventh and 10th in the Pac-12 Conference. A win against Stanford would guarantee the Buffs of at least a ninth-place finish...CU has won its past seven games against Stanford, a run that includes three in a row in Boulder and an 81-74 road win on Feb. 2...White (19 points, eight assists, four blocks) and Xavier Johnson (19 points, six rebounds) paced the Buffs in last month's win at Stanford...Since missing four of six games in mid-January, Stanford's Travis has averaged 19.8 points over the past eight games. He has shot .571 (64-for-112) during that span...
It was easy to wonder if Xavier Johnson had played his final game for the Colorado Buffaloes before his senior season had even begun.
In June 2015, Johnson suffered a torn left Achilles tendon, robbing the Buffs of a player expected to be an integral senior on a team that eventually reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons.
Instead Johnson slowly healed on the sideline, watching his team rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season to post 22 wins before finally deciding to return for a fifth year with the Buffs. Though he generally has provided a steady scoring presence this season, Johnson has struggled in the past four games since returning from a two-game suspension.
It's a trend he hopes to reverse in his final two games at the Coors Events Center, as the Buffs begin the last homestand of the 2016-17 regular season Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference battle against Stanford.
"I'm grateful I could come back and play the game, period," Johnson said. "I'm happy that I can play the sport that I love and just enjoy every moment of it. I'm looking to go out, play my game. I've had a few rough ones but I'm not worried about it.
"These few wins could help us lead into the Pac-12 tournament strong and just solidify our defense and rebounding principles. If we do that, we should be good."
When the Buffs last met Stanford on Feb. 2, Johnson played a big role as CU ended a 10-game road losing streak within the league, scoring 19 points and adding six rebounds and a season-best three assists. At that point Johnson had been held to single-digit points in just four of 23 games while shooting .522 from the floor and averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Three days later, however, Johnson and fellow fifth-year senior Wesley Gordon were handed two-game suspensions for a violation of team rules prior to CU's game at Cal. Since his return, Johnson's game has been off. While he put together a 6-for-10 night with 17 points in a win at Oregon State that included a clutch 3-pointer late, in Johnson's three other post-suspension games he has gone 6-for-26 while scoring a total of just 21 points. Johnson also went 1-for-13 on 3-pointers in those three games.
After finishing the previous Stanford game with a rebounding average of 6.1, Johnson has averaged just 4.5 over the past four games. A return to form by Johnson would provide a huge boost for a CU team still trying to cement its qualifications for the NIT.
"He's been hunting shots and he's been taking a lot of quick shots. I don't know if he's pressing or not," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "X is good when he lets the game come to him. But when he's hunting shots, or if he is pressing, it's not a good thing for him or for our team. That's really true for anybody. We want shots to come as a result of the offense."