CU men's basketball preview: Washington State
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (15-10, 7-6 Pac-12 Conference) at Washington State Cougars (9-15, 1-11).
GAME TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m. MST, Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 850 AM.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (164-105, 220-171 overall); Washington State — Ernie Kent, fourth season (44-73, 369-326 overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 14.5 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.2 rpg; Assist: Wright, 5.4 apg. Washington State — Scoring: F Robert Franks, Jr., 17.9 ppg; Rebounding: F Drick Bernstine, Sr., 7.0 rpg; Assists: G Malachi Flynn, So., 4.3 apg.
NOTES: CU is 12-3 all-time against WSU and has won six of the past seven meetings. The teams have played into overtime in four of their past 11 games...McKinley Wright paced the Buffs' home win against WSU on Jan. 18 with 17 points and five assists. Namon Wright posted his first double-double with the Buffs with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while King added 16 points and nine rebounds...King has averaged 16.6 points while shooting .487 (38-for-78) in seven games against WSU since the start of the 2015-16 season...McKinley Wright needs eight assists to match Chauncey Billups' CU record for assists by a freshman at 143. Billups reached that total in 26 games during the 1995-96 season. McKinley Wright will play his 26th game against WSU.
The Colorado Buffaloes know they are about to be bombarded from all angles.
The CU men's basketball team embarks on a finishing stretch that sees the Buffaloes playing three of their final five regular-season games on the road beginning Thursday night at Washington State, the last-place team in the Pac-12 Conference.
While the Cougars rank at or near the bottom of most offensive categories since the start of league play, one thing they do often is launch 3-pointers. And as the Buffs learned during an 82-73 home win against WSU on Jan. 18, when the Cougars are connecting they can stay close with anyone.
"That's what makes Washington State so potent. They've got multiple guys that can make multiple threes," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "(Viont'e) Daniels probably wishes he could play against Colorado every game. You look at what he did at their place last year, what he did at our place this year. We bring out the best in that kid and he's a good player.
"We've got to all be ready, dialed-in, ready to go."
Daniels was a key figure in the Cougars' 15-for-34 performance from 3-point range at the Coors Events Center last month, going 6-for-10 overall and 6-for-9 on 3-pointers before finishing with a game-high 18 points. Daniels also went 4-for-5 on 3-pointers during WSU's overtime win at home against the Buffs last year, and he has gone 12-for-18 on 3-pointers in four games against CU since the beginning of last season.
Daniels' strong showing last month in Boulder illustrated how tricky it can be to defend WSU along the arc. The Buffs actually held the Cougars' top two scorers, Robert Franks and Malachi Flynn, to a combined 2-for-10 mark on 3-pointers. However, Daniels and Carter Skaggs (5-for-11 on 3-pointers) more than picked up the slack by combining to go 11-for-20.
"We've been working a lot on taking away the 3-point line," freshman guard McKinley Wright said. "Against a team like Washington State, you know they have four guys who can light it up on any given night. And they've been shooting at a much higher percentage at home. We've just got to go in with the mindset to run those guys off the 3-point line and make finish tough twos in the lane over our bigs."
In Pac-12 Conference games, no squad has attempted more 3-pointers than the 350 by the Cougars. However, WSU ranks only seventh within the league in 3-point percentage (.366), while the Buffs' recent strong defensive surge during three consecutive home wins moved them into a tie for third within the league in defensive 3-point percentage (.340). The Buffs also rank first in league games in overall defensive 3-point percentage (.413).
In the Buffs' home wins against Utah, Cal, and Stanford over the past two weeks they limited their opponents to a .358 field goal percentage and a 19-for-60 mark (.317) on 3-pointers.
"These two games (in Washington) are huge for us, but we've got to take it one game at a time" Wright said. "Washington State is the biggest game of the year so far. You have to go in with the mindset of high energy, toughness, and effort, and we can win anywhere."