CU men's basketball preview: Washington State

MATCHUP: No. 10 Washington State Cougars (13-17, 6-12 Pac-12 Conference) vs. No. 7 Colorado Buffaloes (18-13, 8-10) in first round of the Pac-12 tournament.

GAME TIME: 7 p.m. MST, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — 760 AM.

COACHES: Washington State — Ernie Kent, 3rd season (35-56, 360-309 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (148-93, 204-159 overall).

LEADERS: Washington State — Scoring: F Josh Hawkinson, Sr., 15.6 ppg; Rebounding: Hawkinson, 10.1; Assists: G Ike Iroegbu, Sr., 3.6 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 17.0 ppg; Rebounding: G George King, Jr., 6.9 rpg; Assists: White, 4.3 apg.

NOTABLE: The winner will face second-seeded Arizona on Thursday at 7 p.m. MST...The Buffs have never lost their first game of the Pac-12 tournament, a run that includes an 80-56 win against Washington State in the first round last year. George King led the way in that win by going 7-for-12 with 21 points...After missing last season due to injury, CU senior Xavier Johnson likely is eager to continue adding to his league tournament pedigree. In seven career games in the Pac-12 tourney, Johnson has averaged 12.9 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting .596 (28-for-47) from the floor. That includes an 8-for-13 mark on 3-pointers...The Buffs played just two neutral-floor games this season, losing to Notre Dame and defeating Texas in November at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn...Despite an 0-for-4 outing Saturday against Cal, CU backup forward Tory Miller still has reached double-figure points in five of the past nine games while shooting .545 (24-for-44) during that span...Boyle said CU freshman guard Bryce Peters remains on indefinite suspension heading into the tournament...If the seed positions play true to form in the tournament, the Buffs will have to upset all three of the league's top 10 teams — No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 Oregon, and No. 7 Arizona — to win the championship...On Tuesday White was named as an honorable mention selection to the Pac-12 All-Academic team. He was the only CU player honored.

The Colorado Buffaloes' two previous meetings with Washington State over the past month and a half couldn't have been scripted with greater disparity.

On Jan. 21 the Buffs suffered an overtime loss in a high-scoring affair on the road, a debilitating defeat in which CU held a lead in the final minute of overtime before falling to a completely unexpected 0-7 mark within the Pac-12 Conference.

When the Cougars visited Boulder three weeks later, the Buffs routed WSU while holding the visitors to only 49 points, which had been a season-low for a CU opponent until Saturday's 54-46 against Cal in the regular season finale.

On Wednesday night the foes meet again in the opening round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Considering the Buffs averaged 86 points in the two previous meetings while holding WSU to 34 fewer points in the second contest, defense once again will be the focus of a seventh-seeded Buffs team taking aim at a miracle run through the tournament toward the league's automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.

While CU head coach Tad Boyle was pleased with the home rout of a Washington State team that typically plays the Buffs tough, he has been quick to remind his team of its flaws in that win as well.

"We didn't play great offensively (the second game). We shot the ball well, but we took some ill-advised shots and we really didn't share it like we have been sharing it. We scored that way because we scored off of turnovers," Boyle said. "And defensively, we didn't have our best outing.

"Washington State, I think it was one of those days for them. You want to pat yourself on the back and give yourself credit when you win those games. And we did some good things. But it wasn't one of their best efforts. We know they're a better team than what we saw here."

The Cougars ended the regular season with losses in seven of nine games but are coming off a solid showing at third-ranked UCLA, with the Bruins needing a late surge to hold off the upset bid.

The strength of Washington State typically revolves around senior forward Josh Hawkinson, who has surpassed the 1,000-rebound mark in his career while becoming the program's all-time leader. However, as the Buffs learned so painfully on the road, ignoring the Cougars' outside shooters can prove disastrous as well.

WSU went 13-for-26 from 3-point range in its home win against CU, with the Buffs providing life to a couple of Cougars guards who otherwise have toiled in relative anonymity this season.

Sophomore guard Viont'e Daniels went 4-for-5 on 3-pointers and finished with 12 points against CU. He reached double-figure points in just one other game all season. Even more debilitating for the Buffs was the 6-for-9 performance from long range by Charles Callison, who finished with a career-best 30 points. He had scored only 26 points in six Pac-12 games up to that point.

That duo still combined to go 4-for-6 on 3-pointers in Boulder, but the Buffs forced 24 turnovers while holding the Cougars to a 17-for-44 mark overall.

"It's at a point where I think we can win any game we want to, it's just a matter of if we want to do it," CU senior Xavier Johnson said. "It's one game at a time. We have to beat Washington State before we can play Arizona, so we just have to play basketball as a team."

Pat Rooney: or