CU men’s basketball preview: Eastern Washington
MATCHUP: Eastern Washington Eagles (8-4) at Colorado Buffaloes (9-3).
GAME TIME: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM; TV — Pac-12 Network.
Eastern Washington — Jim Hayford, 6th season (92-83, 346-167 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (139-83, 195-149 overall).
LEADERS: Eastern Washington — Scoring: G/F Bogdan Bliznyuk, Jr., 20.6 ppg; Rebounding: F Jacob Wiley, Sr., 7.6 rpg; Assists: Bliznyuk, 4.3 apg. Colorado — F Xavier Johnson, Sr., 14.9 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 8.4 rpg; Assists: G Derrick White, Sr., 3.5 apg.
NOTABLE: This is the second meeting between the programs. CU won both previous games, and the teams last met on Dec. 18, 1999…Johnson has taken over the team scoring lead after averaging 16.5 points over the past five games…CU has been outrebounded in three of the past four games…CU junior George King, the leading 3-point shooter in the Pac-12 last year, has made just 4-of-22 3-pointers over the past six games…This is the Buffs final home game until a Jan. 12 date against No. 2 UCLA.
Eastern Washington has been far from home the entire week.
On Tuesday the Eagles suffered a 29-point loss at Xavier — the same Xavier team that arrived in Boulder two weeks ago as the nation’s No. 13 team but left with a 68-66 defeat against the Colorado Buffaloes.
In other words, despite Eastern Washington’s status as one of the top teams in the Big Sky Conference, Thursday night’s nonconference finale at the Coors Events Center presents an ideal opportunity for the Buffs to head into the holiday hiatus on a positive note after struggling to put together full 40-minute games through the season’s first 12 contests.
“To me, it’s not about what Eastern Washington has done this week,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “It’s about Colorado basketball, doing what we have to do, doing our jobs, doing it consistently for 40 minutes. That’s what our focus is on.
“We’ve shown flashes. Offensively against Air Force (on Monday), I thought other than the turnovers in the first half, we played really well. We shot 54 percent from the floor. We shot over 40 percent from three. We did only have four turnovers in the second half. I thought there were some really good things. This team has done some good things.”
Following the game the Buffs will be released for the long holiday weekend, reconvening in Boulder on Dec. 27 to begin preparations for the Pac-12 Conference opener at Utah on New Year’s Day.
The break may arrive at a fortuitous time for the Buffaloes, who play their third game in six nights on Thursday.
“I think it will be good for everyone to get a change of scenery for a little bit,” senior Xavier Johnson said. “We can go home and get off our feet for a couple of days and just relax.
“I think sometimes people aren’t coming into the game ready to play. I think sometimes we don’t set the pace as seniors to start the game. Those two things combined can lead to disaster. We just have to put 40 minutes together.”
Eastern Washington jumped to an 8-2 start this season but brings a two-game losing streak to the Coors Events Center, having also lost Sunday at Northern Kentucky. The Eagles have averaged just 52 points during their 0-2 road trip, but they are shooting .359 from 3-point range and feature an impressive scorer in Bogdan Bliznyuk. Bliznyuk, a 6-foot-6 native of Ukraine, is shooting .503 from the floor (91-for-181) while averaging 20.6 points.
“(Bliznyuk) is a terrific player. We need to do a great job on him,” Boyle said. “Eastern Washington is a good team. I think they’ve got a chance to win the Big Sky, I really do. I’ve coached in the Big Sky and they’re one of the best teams. They’re pretty good.”