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Colorado's George King feels the Buffs need to play better defensively in the final minutes in road games.
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s George King feels the Buffs need to play better defensively in the final minutes in road games.

CU men’s basketball preview: Stanford

MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (12-10, 2-7 Pac-12 Conference) at Stanford Cardinal (11-10, 3-6).

GAME TIME: Thursday, 9 p.m., Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 760 AM.

Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (142-90, 198-156 overall); Stanford — Jerod Haase, 1st season (11-10, 91-63 overall).

LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 16.3 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 7.5 rpg; Assists: White, 4.2 apg. Stanford — Scoring: F Reid Travis, Jr., 16.6 ppg; Rebounding: Travis, 8.7 rpg; Assists: G Marcus Sheffield, So., 3.3 apg.

NOTABLE: CU held on down the stretch for a 56-55 win at Stanford last year. The Buffs have won six consecutive game against the Cardinal, including the past three on the road…Stanford might be the right opponent for CU senior Josh Fortune to end his shooting slump against. In two wins against Stanford last year he went 8-for-12 on 3-pointers while averaging 15.5 points. Fortune’s 21 points in CU’s home win against Stanford remains his career best…Junior guard Dom Collier has collected six steals over the past three games…After leading the Pac-12 in free throw percentage last year (.734) CU has slipped to eighth this year. The Buffs have gone 31-for-58 over the past two games, dropping their free throw percentage to .693…The Buffs complete the two-game road trip Sunday at Cal (2:30 p.m. MT, ESPNU).

Even with a majority of home games ahead for the Colorado Buffaloes through the second half of the Pac-12 Conference schedule, any late-season charge the Buffs might have in them will require success on the road.

That maybe will be easier said than done for a squad that has lost 10 consecutive league games on the road. Yet after putting together arguably their best all-around performance of the season the Buffs will have an opportunity to end that drought Thursday night at Stanford.

In three of CU’s past four road games—at Arizona State, Washington, and Washington State—the Buffs held a lead in the final minute but were unable to finish the job. In the two games in Washington two weeks ago, CU held leads in the final minute of regulation and overtime as well but couldn’t prevail.

The Buffs’ last win in a true road game within the Pac-12 was Jan. 23, 2016 at Washington State.

“We have to switch our mindsets from offense to defense,” CU junior George King said. “We have to be defensively sound. We have to execute defensively and we have to play with a lot of energy and effort, especially defensively. We’re an offensively talented group, and that end’s not going to be a problem. (Stanford) has good low-post scorers and they also have a good point guard who makes good plays. They really play through their post, so I think defensively if we can slow down their bigs, we’ll be fine.”

CU is coming off its most impressive defensive performance of the season, limiting a 10th-ranked Oregon team to a .386 shooting percentage after the Ducks had compiled a .501 mark previously in league play.

The Cardinal struggled last season without the services of forward Reid Travis for the bulk of the season, but the junior has excelled in his return from injury this year. Travis ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring at 16.6 points per game. The 6-foot-8 Travis also ranks fifth in the league in rebounding (8.7) and seventh in field goal percentage (.565).

“If we play defense like we did (against Oregon) we can be unstoppable,” senior Xavier Johnson said. “It’s just doing it on a consistent basis. We can definitely use that game as a pushing point for us. Every game is winnable. If we defend like Oregon, we’ll be fine. That’s all. Defend, get 50-50 balls, and out-hustle.”

After an 8-4 start in nonconference play under first-year head coach Jerod Haase, Stanford has been streaky through the first half of Pac-12 play. The Cardinal went 0-4 in a tough opening run against Arizona State, Arizona, USC, and UCLA but rebounded to win three straight. However, Stanford is coming off consecutive losses against Oregon and Cal heading into its date against the Buffs.

Despite Travis’ impressive numbers, the Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in overall field goal percentage (.427) and 3-point percentage (.313).

“Even in practice, coach brought it up how we’d get a stop, but they would still get the offensive rebound because we didn’t box out. Simple things like that,” Johnson said. “If we do the simple things we should be fine.”

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