CU men's basketball preview: UCLA Bruins
TIPOFF: Wednesday, 7 p.m. MT, Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio 850 AM.
RECORDS: Colorado — 12-9, 3-6 Pac-12 Conference; UCLA 12-10, 5-4.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (178-119, 234-185 overall); UCLA — Murry Bartow, 1st season (5-4, 333-268 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 12.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.8 rpg; F Tyler Bey, So., 12.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 11.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg. UCLA — G Kris Wilkes, So., 17.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg; G Jaylen Hands, So., 11.7 ppg, 6.5 apg; F Moses Brown, Fr., 11.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg.
NOTES: Though the Buffs swept the Bruins last season for the first time since joining the Pac-12, CU is just 4-11 all-time against UCLA with a 3-7 mark in Pac-12 play...Bartow took over as the Bruins' interim head coach on Dec. 31 after UCLA fell to 7-6 under former coach Steve Alford...UCLA has recorded at least 20 turnovers in six games this season is coming off a 23-turnover effort in a loss Saturday at Washington...CU's .294 3-point percentage in Pac-12 games is a league-low. The Buffs might be able to get on track at Pauley Pavilion, where they went 11-for-22 on 3-pointers in last year's win...The Buffs complete their trip through Los Angeles on Saturday night at USC (8 p.m., ESPNU).
Putting together a full 40 minutes has been an elusive goal for the Colorado men's basketball team through the first half of Pac-12 Conference play.
There have been times when the Buffaloes started poorly only to eventually hold steady (Washington) or rally furiously to no avail (Utah). More recently, in losses at Stanford and last week at home against Oregon State, the Buffs corrected that problem with solid starts, only to watch the opposition take over after halftime.
The flip side of those frustrations is that, with the exception of CU's loss at Arizona State a month ago, the Buffs also have not laid a 40-minute egg in league play. The hope is that Saturday's dominant home win against Oregon turns a light on for the undermanned, still-youthful Buffs as they begin the second half of the Pac-12 schedule Wednesday night at UCLA.
"Our guys have proven now they can do it," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I said it after the game, we didn't get (Oregon's) best shot. But they're a talented team and they won at Arizona. It's hard to do and something we haven't done. We proved we can do it for 40 minutes. Now we have to go do it again. It may not be the kind of score that it was the other night every time, but we have to be ready to compete and execute defensively and offensively for 40 minutes."
On Wednesday, Boyle's Buffs return to a venue where they put together one of their most impressive 40-minute efforts of the 2017-18 season, a 68-59 win that saw the Buffs lead throughout their first victory at Pauley Pavilion. The win, powered by six 3-pointers and a double-double from George King, snapped a seven-game road losing streak for CU, and it proved to be the Buffs only win in a true road game last season.
CU has fared slightly better in true road games this season (3-6), although missed opportunities at San Diego and Stanford will remain regrets regardless how the Buffs fare down the stretch.
"We were so inconsistent playing bad the first half and playing good the second half. And then the other way around," CU forward Evan Battey said. "We definitely learned our lesson and we hope to carry it. We've had bad stretches of games, but not completely bad games. That's really key for us — we're in every game we play. Coach Boyle says we're knocking on the door."
It has been an eventful season at UCLA, which fired former coach Steve Alford following a 7-6 start that bottomed out with consecutive home losses against Belmont and Liberty. Through the first nine Pac-12 games, the Bruins' up-tempo pace has led to a 79.4 scoring average in league games, tops in the conference. The Bruins generate much of that offense from a pressing defense that has forced 13.7 turnovers per game, good for fourth in league games.
The Bruins, however, also are averaging a Pac-12-worst 17.3 turnovers in conference play. Despite struggling with their own turnover woes for much of the season, the Buffs have improved slightly. CU averaged 13.9 turnovers per in nonconference play and recorded 17 in the league opener at Arizona. Since then, though, the Buffs have averaged 12.3 per game, and their Pac-12 average of 12.9 ranks sixth.
"The key with UCLA is you have to keep them out of transition. And the way you do that is by taking care of the ball and taking great shots," Boyle said. "It's hard for them to run taking the ball out of the net. It's hard for them to run if we don't turn the ball over. So that's the key against UCLA. I thought the key against Oregon was handling their press and handling their pressure. UCLA, it's taking them out of transition and making them a half-court offensive team. The way your transition defense gets better is by taking care of the ball and executing on offense."