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CU men’s basketball ready for speedy pace, raucous gym at BYU

Brigham Young forward Eric Mika, right, leads the Cougars in scoring ( 21.4) and rebounding (8.7).
Trent Nelson / Associated Press
Brigham Young forward Eric Mika, right, leads the Cougars in scoring ( 21.4) and rebounding (8.7).

CU men’s basketball preview: Brigham Young

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (7-2) at Brigham Young Cougars (6-3).

GAME TIME: Saturday, 8 p.m. MST, Marriott Center, Provo Utah.

BROADCAST: Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM; TV — ESPN2.

Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (137-82, 193-148 overall). BYU — Dave Rose, 12th season (289-102 at BYU and overall).

LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 15.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 8.9 rpg; Assists: White 3.6 apg. BYU — Scoring F Eric Mika, So., 21.4 ppg; Rebounding: Mika, 8.7 rpg; Assists: G LJ Rose, Sr., 5.3 apg.

NOTABLE: After a rough 1-for-7 night in last week’s loss against Colorado State, CU senior Xavier Johnson has gone 12-for-22 in the past two games with a 4-for-6 mark on 3-pointers. Johnson has moved into 25th-place on CU’s all-time scoring list and needs just three points to take over 24th-place. Johnson needs five rebounds to pass CU basketball radio voice Scott Wilke for 22nd on the all-time rebounding list…After missing two of the past four games due to an ankle injury, including Wednesday’s win against No. 13 Xavier, reserve forward Tory Miller is expected to be available against the Cougars…Following the BYU visit, the Buffs will be idle until a home date against Division II Fort Hays State on Dec. 17.

A little more than two weeks ago, the Colorado men’s basketball team split a pair of games against quality national competition on a neutral floor in Brooklyn.

Last week, the Buffaloes used a dominant second-half surge to subdue a small, mildly raucous gym at the University of Portland.

Yet the Buffs have yet to play before anything resembling a hostile opposing crowd. That should change Saturday night, as CU visits Brigham Young for the first time in 61 years (8 p.m. MST, ESPN2).

Through five home games at the Marriott Center, BYU’s average attendance is 14,447. The biggest crowd the Buffs have enjoyed was 8,715 in last week’s home date against Colorado State. Away from home the biggest crowd CU has played before was 6,780 in one of the neutral-floor games against Notre Dame.

It’s not a stretch to believe Saturday’s attendance will be more than twice that figure, with the majority of the crowd squarely against the Buffs.

“That’s why you play these nonconference games, to get in these environments and test yourself, see where you’re at,” CU head coach Tad Boyle. “A power-five school with three true road games on their schedule…there’s not many. But we’re doing it because one, we’ve a veteran team and we need to learn to win on the road. And this is a good, quality opponent and a tough atmosphere.”

The Buffs are coming off their most impressive performance of the season, posting a 68-66 win Wednesday against No. 13 Xavier. For a CU team that has counted inconsistency as one of its primary shortcomings during the nonconference slate, building on that victory after a short turnaround while heading into a formidable atmosphere might be the Buffs’ last big challenge before Pac-12 Conference play begins on New Year’s Day.

“It’s a true road game, so there’s going to be a lot of atmosphere and it’s the first time we’re really going into a hostile environment,” senior forward Wesley Gordon said. “It’s going to be a good test for us.”

CU handled Brigham Young a year ago at home, posting a 92-83 win. BYU remains a high-scoring team, averaging 86.6 points a game, but after being a perimeter-oriented bunch behind since-graduated guard Kyle Collinsworth, the Cougars have become a stronger inside force thanks to the play of sophomore forward Eric Mika.

The 6-foot-10 Mika leads the Cougars with averages of 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. In addition to his presence in the paint, Mika’s athleticism and soft hands have allowed him to be a solid contributor to the Cougars’ fast-break attack. While BYU is shooting .453 overall from the floor, the Cougars’ .290 mark from 3-point range gives evidence to how they are getting the bulk of their scoring through easy baskets in transition.

“We’ll look to take them out of their transition game, but we still want to get breaks and push the ball up the floor and get hopefully good, easy shots in transition,” Boyle said. “The No. 1 thing with BYU, whether you play them at home or on the road, is take them out of transition. It’s easier said than done, but they run.”

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