CU men's basketball preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Fox Sports 1; Radio — 850 AM.

RECORDS: Arizona State 16-7, 7-4 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 14-9, 5-6.

COACHES: Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 4th season (66-54, 108-74 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (180-119, 236-185 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Arizona State — G Luguentz Dort, Fr., 16.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg; G Remy Martin, So., 13.1 ppg, 5.1 apg; F Zylan Cheatham, Sr., 11.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 13.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.9 rpg; F Tyler Bey, So., 12.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 5.1 rpg.

NOTES: The Buffs have won four straight home games against ASU, including an overtime win in Boulder last year...ASU posted an 83-61 win against the Buffs in Tempe on Jan. 5. Romello White paced the Sun Devils with 19 points and eight rebounds...ASU's Martin went 5-for-7 on 3-pointers and scored 31 points in an overtime win at home against Arizona on Jan. 31. In two games since, Martin is 3-for-14 on 3s with a total of 21 points...The Buffs have shot .881 (52-for-59) at the free throw line during their three-game winning streak...Outside of last week's win at UCLA, the Buffs still are struggling from 3-point range, with a league-low .310 mark in Pac-12 games. However, CU trails only Washington within the Pac-12 with a defensive 3-point percentage of .


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296...CU's homestand continues Sunday night against Arizona (6 p.m., ESPNU).

The first time around, pretty much anything that could go wrong indeed did so for the Colorado men's basketball team.

It was Jan. 5, the second Pac-12 Conference game of the season at Arizona State. Two days earlier the Buffaloes put together a decent start at Arizona, jumping ahead 11-6, before ultimately falling apart. At ASU it quickly became apparent there would be no reversal of momentum in Tempe, as the Sun Devils raced to a 13-2 lead while quickly burying the Buffs.

By the end of the season-worst 22-point loss, CU had posted totals that remain season-lows in field goal percentage (.328), defensive field goal percentage (.571), and rebounding margin (minus-14). Yet lately the Buffs have finally altered the momentum of their season, and they will have a chance to make up for that lackadaisical performance at ASU Wednesday when the Sun Devils visit the CU Events Center for the rematch.

"They manhandled us back in early January," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "They had 50 points in the paint. Transition defense was not good. They're a very good team in transition. Second shots were huge. They're a very good offensive rebounding team. So there's a lot of things we have to do well. I think the big thing with Arizona State is you have to match their intensity, because they play extremely hard. They're very physical on the glass. We have to match that physicality."

This time, the Buffs will take a three-game winning streak into their battle against the Sun Devils, a streak that includes two wins in Los Angeles last week that saw the Buffs outperform the opposition at crunch time. With Arizona visiting Sunday, this weekend's home series represents a huge opportunity for CU to gain ground in its quest to at least finish in the top half of the conference.

ASU enters the contest as one of three teams tied for second (three games behind league-leading Washington) with a 7-4 mark. Two teams enter the weekend at 6-5, both of whom already have lost to the Buffs (USC, Oregon). CU, along with Arizona, is among a quartet of squads huddled together at 5-6, meaning the Buffs' ability to continue their recent surge could go a long way toward gaining better traction in a pack likely to remain crowded through the final weekend of the regular season.

"I'm very confident," CU point guard McKinley Wright said. "We come back to play in front of our fans after winning three (in a row), two of them on the road. We're very confident. We believe in each other. Coach believes in us. We're excited just to get out here and play."

Like just about every team in the league, the Sun Devils have been prone to inconsistency, losing last week at home to a Washington State club that entered the game 1-8 in the Pac-12 before turning around to hand UW its first league loss.

While the Sun Devils generally have sported a high-octane offense under coach Bobby Hurley, ASU has improved significantly on defense and on the glass this season. After ranking 11th in league games last year in rebounding margin (minus-3.6) and eighth in defensive field goal percentage (.454), ASU enters this weekend ranked second within the Pac-12 in rebounding margin (plus-4.7) and first in defensive field goal percentage (.410).

"They're a much better defensive team than they were last year," Boyle said. "They had three really good guards last year offensively, but they weren't the same defensively. (Luguentz) Dort can get out and pressure the ball. Remy Martin is a really on-ball defender. (Zylan) Cheatham is as long and athletic as anybody in the country. They've got some great individual defenders."

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