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CU hoops need strong post defense to end losing streak at Washington State

Colorado's Tory Miller, left, and Wesley Gordon, right, will have the tough task of slowing down Washington State's big men on Saturday.
David Zalubowski / Associated Press
Colorado’s Tory Miller, left, and Wesley Gordon, right, will have the tough task of slowing down Washington State’s big men on Saturday.

CU men’s basketball preview: Washington State

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (10-9, 0-6 Pac-12 Conference) at Washington State Cougars (9-9, 2-4).

GAME TIME: 2 p.m. MST, Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (140-89, 196-155 overall); Washington State — Ernie Kent, 3rd season (31-47, 356-301 overall).

LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 16.1 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 8.1 rpg; Assists: White, 4.2 apg; Washington State — Scoring: F Josh Hawkinson, Sr., 15.4 ppg; Rebounding: Hawkinson, 10.6 rpg; Assists: G Ike Iroegbu, Sr., 2.8 apg.

NOTABLE: The Buffs have lost nine consecutive road games in the Pac-12 dating back to last year’s win at WSU…White has 13 assists with only three turnovers in the past two games…After leading the Pac-12 with a .734 free throw percentage last year, the Buffs rank eighth with a .704 percentage this year. CU has gone just 18-for-30 (.600) in the past two games. Washington State has the Pac-12’s top free throw mark at .783…CU’s George King has gone 8-for-13 on 3-pointers in the past three games…CU has won eight of nine games against WSU since joining the Pac-12…The Cougars are coming off a 41-point loss at home Wednesday against Utah.

SPOKANE — On Wednesday, the onus fell on the guards of the Colorado men’s basketball team to slow down Markelle Fultz and the other sharpshooters from the University of Washington.

It didn’t happen. Fultz, widely projected as the top overall pick in the NBA draft, scored a career-best 37 points while David Crisp went 4-for-5 on 3-pointers in the second half and overtime, including a pair of back-breakers down the stretch.

On Saturday afternoon at Washington State the Buffaloes’ defensive challenge will fall upon their big men as CU attempts to finally end the program’s first 0-6 start in league play in 24 years.

“They’ve got good bigs,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Conor Clifford is a guy who can really score on the block. As good a low-post scorer as we’ve got in our league and nobody talks about him. Soft hands, a big, wide body. Tough in terms of scoring the ball on the block. With Josh Scott we couldn’t guard him with one guy. Josh Scott’s not here. Tough for one of our guys to guard him mano-a-mano on the block.”

Even with Scott in the mix Clifford enjoyed a big game for the Cougars when CU visited last year, going 8-for-9 from the floor before finishing with 18 points. Entering Saturday’s Pac-12 battle Clifford ranks seventh in the league with a .571 field goal percentage.

Yet even more pressing for the Buffs will be the effort to contain WSU’s Josh Hawkinson, the “double-double machine” as described by Boyle. Hawkinson averages a double-double with 15.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Hawkinson is one of three players who rank in the league’s top 10 in both scoring and rebounding, and he set a program single-season record with 20 double-doubles in each of the past seasons.

Hawkinson has 10 double-doubles so far this year, and he averaged 12.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in three games against the Scott-led Buffs last year.

“With Washington we had to watch the guards more than the bigs, but with Washington State it’s the bigs,” CU forward Tory Miller said. “They’ve got Clifford, they’ve got Hawkinson, and we know how good they can be. That’s a challenge for me and it’s a challenge for Wes (Gordon). We’ve got to step up and play team defense.”

Washington State won only one league game a year ago but gave the Buffs all they could handle in both of the teams’ regular-season meetings, with the Buffs needing a late run to win on the road and outlasting WSU in two overtimes at home. The Cougars enter Saturday’s game on a four-game losing streak but opened Pac-12 play with a win at Washington — where the Buffs lost in overtime on Wednesday.

“Everyone talks about, OK, the (nonconference) schedule is over with and now conference play starts, it’s a new season. They’ve obviously taken that to heart,” Boyle said. “They came into Washington and beat Washington at Washington, which is something we didn’t do. So we’ve got our hands full because of the way they played us last year but, more importantly, they’ve got more league wins than we have right now.”

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