CU men's basketball preview: Arizona Wildcats

TIPOFF: Thursday, 7:15 p.m. MT, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.

BROADCAST: TV — FS1; Radio — 850 AM.

RECORDS: Colorado 9-3; Arizona 9-4.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (175-113, 231-179 overall); Arizona — Sean Miller, 10th season (256-78, 375-125 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 13.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.8 apg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr.,12.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, .488 3-point percentage; F Tyler Bey, So., 11.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg. Arizona — G Brandon Randolph, So., 16.6 ppg, .887 free throw percentage (47-for-53); F Chase Jeter, Jr., 12.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg; G Brandon Williams, Fr., 11.0 ppg, 3.8 apg.

NOTES: The Buffs have never won at the McKale Center and are 2-8 all-time on the road against the Wildcats. That includes an 0-6 road mark since the Buffs joined the Pac-12...Arizona is closing in on win No. 600 at the McKale Center. The Wildcats own a 597-106 mark at the venue...UA's Randolph has put together a huge jump in production after averaging just 3.7 points in 31 games last year...The Buffs went just 16-for-60 (.267) on 3-pointers during the three games in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic...CU's road trip continues Saturday at Arizona State (4 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

It's a long checklist Tad Boyle is taking with him to Arizona. But that's what happens when you coach a team that can look tough on the road one week and fall flat on its collective face the next.


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Boyle and his Colorado men's basketball team open Pac-12 Conference play Thursday night at Arizona in the McKale Center, a venue that has been unkind to the Buffaloes over the years. Two months ago, CU believed it had an opportunity to compete for a league crown. That goal certainly remains in a wide-open league with no clear-cut favorite, but after stumbling to a pair of ugly losses to open the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, Boyle has a lengthy checklist in hand regarding what has to happen for his Buffs to compete at Arizona and in Saturday's date at Arizona State.

"There's four things," Boyle said. "We've got to compete our tails off. So competing is the No. 1 thing, defend, rebound, and take care of the ball. Those are the things we have to do a good job of down there, because if you don't take care of the ball in Arizona's building, that turns into transition baskets and their crowd gets involved. That's why their record is what it is at McKale."

Getting off to a good start in league play always is of utmost importance to any team, yet it might be even more crucial for a Buffs team that will play five of its first seven Pac-12 games on the road. Getting off the rollercoaster ride the Buffs have weathered in recent weeks could go a long way toward the club reaching those Pac-12 goals.

On Dec. 11, the Buffs overcame a 17-point deficit while dominating the second half in an impressive road win at The Pit in New Mexico. But CU looked nothing like that club while stumbling to losses against Indiana State and Hawaii in its first two games at the Diamond Head Classic.

"They've shown that they've got some vulnerabilities this year, but they've been off since the 22nd of December," Boyle said. "So they've had a lot of time to practice. One thing about Sean Miller's teams is they usually, when they have good breaks, they get better. He's a good coach."

This weekend, and, really, the opening seven-game stretch, presents an opportunity for the Buffs to gain traction in their stated goal of collecting seven road wins this season — two more than CU has collected over the past two seasons combined. The Buffs posted road wins against Air Force and New Mexico during nonconference play but haven't won more than two road games within the Pac-12 since the 2013-14 season, going 7-29 during that span.

"There's not a team in (the league) that I don't think we can beat," sophomore guard D'Shawn Schwartz said. "I think we can get some road wins, as opposed to last year. We've grown a little bit, and I think we have a chance to get some road wins starting on the third."

"We just did it a couple weeks before Christmas when we went to New Mexico. The buildings are similar. The fan base is really into it and educated. They support their team."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07