Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Ted S. Warren / AP
CU men’s basketball preview: Washington
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (10-8, 0-5 Pac-12 Conference) at Washington Huskies (8-9, 1-4).
GAME TIME: Wednesday, 9 p.m. MST, Alaska Airlines Arena.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU. Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (140-88, 196-154 overall); Washington — Lorenzo Romar, 15th season (297-183, 390-271 overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 15.7 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 7.9 rpg; Assists: White, 4.0 apg. Washington — Scoring: G Markelle Fultz, Fr., 22.2 ppg; Rebounding: F Noah Dickerson, So., 8.4 rpg; Assists: Fultz, 6.1 apg.
NOTABLE: The Buffs have lost eight of their past nine games at Washington, including a 95-83 defeat last year. They also are mired in the first five-game losing streak of Boyle’s tenure..CU backup guard Dom Collier enjoyed a career night at UW last year, making 6-of-7 3-pointers and finishing with 21 points. Those marks remain career-bests…George King is showing signs of the shooter that led the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage last season, going 8-for-15 over the past three games…Senior Xavier Johnson has averaged 20.7 points over the past three games while going 23-for-44 (.523) from the floor…Reserve guard Thomas Akyazili still is averaging 12.1 minutes per game, but he has played under 10 minutes in three of the past four games…CU’s road trip continues Saturday afternoon at Washington State.
On paper, this could be the weekend that helps the University of Colorado men’s basketball team get right.
Yet in order to do so the Buffaloes will have to put a solid performance on the road, which hasn’t been kind to the team, and in a venue that also historically has not been friendly to CU.
It’s not a stretch to say the season is on the line for the Buffs this weekend in Washington, where the team begin a two-game Pac-12 Conference swing against the University of Washington Wednesday night.
“We’ve just got to stick together,” senior guard Derrick White said. “This is a challenging time, so we have to stick together and come close as a unit. Adversity reveals character, so we’re going to find out what type of character we’ve got. We’ve just got to stick together and keep playing hard.
“It’s not big things we have to change, it’s little things. The season is long from over so we just have to stay confident.”
A few months ago, the Washington trip seemed like a weekend in which CU would simply be able to pad its NCAA Tournament credentials. Yet what a difference a few bad weeks makes.
The program’s first 0-5 start in league play in 21 years has the Buffs facing a must-win situation with odds stacked against them. CU brings an eight-game road losing streak within the league into Wednesday’s date at Alaska Airlines Arena. The Buffs also have lost eight of their past nine road games against the Huskies, a run that includes the crushing season-ending knee injury suffered by Spencer Dinwiddie in Seattle on Jan. 12, 2014.
Additionally, last year a Buffs team that had been playing far more efficiently and eventually reached the NCAA Tournament was crushed on the road by a Huskies team that ultimately settled for an NIT berth.
Head coach Tad Boyle has attempted to buffer his team’s collective confidence by pointing out they are just two possessions — a missed rebound late against Arizona State, and an empty possession down the stretch in Sunday’s home loss against USC — from being 2-3, which would have been a more than serviceable result in CU’s demanding opening slate within the league.
“The challenge is keeping their spirits up, and understanding there is a fine line between winning and losing in college athletics. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about,” head coach Tad Boyle said. “We’re two possessions away from having two wins in the win column. That’s a very fine line when it comes to the basketball court, one-possession games. The feeling you have between being 2-3 and 0-5 is like being on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon. That’s how wide the emotional feelings are.
“We have to concentrate on the things that we need to do to get wins. It’s not about trying to get a win. Everyone wants to win. You have to be willing to do the things it takes to win.”
Washington has limped to a 1-4 start in the Pac-12 despite the individual brilliance of freshman guard Markelle Fultz, the top scorer in the league and the potential No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. While CU’s offense should be encouraged facing a team that ranks 11th in the league in defensive field goal percentage, the Huskies also lead the league with 13 offensive rebounds a game. That’s unsettling news for a Buffs team that surrendered 17 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points Sunday against USC.
“We know we’re not far away from being where we want to be,” White said. “We just have to focus on defense and rebounding like we’ve talked about all year long and take it to heart. If we just fix some little things we’ll get this turned around.”