CU men's basketball preview: Washington State Cougars

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 8 p.m. MT, Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 16-9, 7-6 Pac-12 Conference; Washington State 10-15, 3-9.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (182-119, 238-185 overall); Washington State — Ernie Kent, 5th season (57-92, 382-345 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 13.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.8 rpg; F Tyler Bey, So., 12.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg. Washington State — F Robert Franks, Sr., 22.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg; F CJ Elleby, Fr., 15.0 ppg, 6.0 ppg; G Marvin Cannon, So., 7.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg.

NOTES: The Buffs posted a thorough 92-60 win at home against WSU Jan. 10. CU made 11 3-pointers and Bey led four Buffs in double-figures with 26 points and 10 rebounds...CU leads the all-time series 12-4, but its an even 3-3 in Pullman...Siewert had recorded just one game with three assists through the first 83 games of his CU career. He has reached that mark three times in the past four games...The Buffs have shot .854 (82-for-96) at the free throw line during their five-game winning streak...In a four-point loss last year at WSU, the Buffs shot just 3-for-18 on 3-pointers and committed 15 turnovers...In eight games since a one-game absence to rest his ailing left shoulder, Wright has shot .417 (10-for-24) on 3-pointers.


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Wright needs six assists to become the 13th CU player with at least 300 in his career...CU continues its final road trip of the regular season Saturday at league-leading Washington (8:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

The Colorado men's basketball team is a much different squad than the one that picked up its first Pac-12 Conference at home against Washington State Jan. 10.

But so are the Cougars. While the Buffaloes' abrupt turnaround has been a team-wide effort, WSU can thank the return of one of the most explosive scorers in the Pac-12 for its recent improved play. The first time around, Buffs didn't have to find a way to bottle up Cougars senior Robert Franks, the Pac-12's leading scorer. With Franks back in the mix the Buffs will face a daunting defensive challenge in a venue that hasn't been kind to them recently when they attempt to extend their five-game winning streak Wednesday night at WSU's Beasley Coliseum.

"We told our players Washington State is a totally different team than who we saw when they were in Boulder back in January," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "Colorado is a different team than we were in January. So we've got two teams that are playing good basketball. And Franks is back. We didn't see him."

Franks missed the first three league games and four overall, including the date at CU, due to a hip injury. In the nine games since his return, Franks has turned in a number of stellar performances including back-to-back 30-point games on the road two weeks ago that gave the Cougars their first weekend sweep of the Arizona schools in 10 years and their first Pac-12 weekend sweep of any sort since the 2011-12 season.

When on the floor, Franks has been a consistent force, leading the Pac-12 with an overall scoring average of 22.3 along with a league-best 22.4 per game in Pac-12 contests. Franks ranks third in league games with a .477 mark on 3-pointers, and he also is averaging 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

While Franks has posted four 30-point games this season and six in his career, the Buffs actually have done a commendable job of containing him over the years. In five games against CU in the previous two seasons, Franks averaged 7.0 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting just .297 overall (11-for-37) with a 4-for-14 mark on 3-pointers.

CU has held its opponents to a .307 mark on 3-pointers during the five-game winning streak, though the Arizona schools shot .409 (18-for-44) in the Buffs' two most recent games. Getting that perimeter defense back on track could prove critical against a Washington State club that ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage (.361).

"I think Franks makes a big, big difference," said Boyle, whose club has lost its past two visits to WSU. "You add 25 points a game into your lineup...it's pretty significant. He's a great 3-point shooter. (Jeff) Pollard is having a great year I think for them. (CJ) Elleby is a really good freshman. Franks is a big difference, but I seem them playing with more energy. I see them moving the ball. Their assist numbers are really, really good. If you go down their lineup and look at their assist-to-turnover ratios, player to player, they're doing a great job.

"They shoot the ball from three very, very well. They've got a lot of weapons. Franks back makes a big, big difference. They're playing good basketball right now, and so are we."

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