CU men's basketball preview: Washington

GAME TIME: Saturday, 4 p.m., Coors Events Center.

MATCHUP: Washington Huskies (13-6, 3-3 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (12-7, 4-3).

BROADCAST: Radio — 850 AM; TV — Pac-12 Network.

COACHES: Washington — Mike Hopkins, 1st season (13-6 at UW and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (161-102, 217-168 overall).

LEADERS: Washington — Scoring: G Jaylen Nowell, Fr., 16.7 ppg; Rebounding: F Noah Dickerson, Jr., 7.5 rpg; Assists: G David Crisp, Jr., 3.2 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 15.1 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.4 rpg; Assists: Wright, 5.3 apg.

NOTES: The Buffs are 7-3 at home all-time against the Huskies, including a 4-1 mark since CU joined the Pac-12...King has made 14 of 16 free throws against UW in his career. The CU senior also has recorded two of his 12 career double-doubles against the Huskies...King needs 11 rebounds to become the 21st CU player to record 600 in his career...Wright has connected on just 2 of 18 3-pointers in Pac-12 play. On the other hand, senior guard Dom Collier has shot .550 (11-for-20) on 3-pointers in league games...The Buffs have gone 39-for-95 (.411) on 3-pointers in their past four home games...CU produced just four games with more assists than turnovers through the season's first 14 games. The Buffs have hit that mark in each win during their current run of four wins in five games.

After getting picked ninth in the preseason Pac-12 Conference media poll and unveiling a rotation featuring four true freshmen and another redshirt freshman, the idea the Colorado men's basketball team would play a game with potentially huge ramifications in the Buffaloes' stature in the league standings by the end of January seemed far-fetched.

Yet thanks to the Buffs' inspired run the past few weeks, that's exactly what Saturday's matchup has turned into. CU hosts Washington — another one of the league's early surprises — at the Coors Events Center with a chance to move two games above .500 in the Pac-12 race.

A victory against the Huskies would move the Buffs to 5-3 in the league. Even if CU loses both games next week in Arizona — perhaps no longer a given with the struggles of Arizona State so far within the league — the idea the Buffs would be .500 more than halfway through the conference schedule, with both series against the Arizona schools and another against the Los Angeles schools in the books, seemed improbable after two opening losses in Oregon.

Now that scenario is well within reach for the Buffs. But it can only fall into place with a win against the Huskies.

"It's a separation game," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "(Washington State) was a very important win for our team to keep that momentum going and get to above .500 in the league. Now it becomes a separation game on Saturday between the Huskies and the Buffs."

Led by first-year coach Mike Hopkins, an assistant for over 20 years at Syracuse under Jim Boeheim, who has brought the Orangemen's patented 2-3 zone defense to Seattle. After Arizona State, the Huskies enjoyed one of the more impressive nonconference runs among Pac-12 teams, highlighted by a win against Kansas in Kansas City. Washington also opened its Pac-12 schedule with a solid win at USC but has gone 2-3 since, including a loss at Utah Thursday night.

"He's brought the same zone with him," said Boyle. "We're not as good at it as they are because they do it every single day and that's all they do, but it's a lot of concepts that we want to do in our two-zone. The same things that hurt our two-zone are going to hurt their two-zone, but we have to make sure we execute offensively."

The Buffs' surge to wins in four of their past five games has been powered by the two staples of the Boyle era, defense and rebounding. Heading into the weekend in league games only, the Buffs rank second in the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage (.419) and fourth in rebounding margin (plus-3). CU also has looked more like the dangerous 3-point team everyone expected than the one that struggled from long range in nonconference play, currently ranking fourth in league games with a .381 3-point percentage.

"It's a huge opportunity," CU senior George King said. "It allows us to separate ourselves against not only Washington, but some other schools in the Pac-12 as well. It sets us up in good position to do what we ultimately want to do, which is win a Pac-12 championship."

Pat Rooney: 303-523-9497, rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07