CU men’s basketball preview: Washington State
MATCHUP: Washington State Cougars (11-13, 4-8 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (14-11, 4-8).
GAME TIME: Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
Washington State — Ernie Kent, 3rd season (34-52, 358-306 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (144-91, 200-157).
LEADERS: Washington State — Scoring: F Josh Hawkinson, Sr., 16.0 ppg; Rebounding: Hawkinson, 10.1 rpg; Assists: G Ike Iroegbu, Sr., 3.6 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 16.7 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 7.3 rpg; Assists: White, 4.2 apg.
NOTABLE: CU is hosting a basketball alumni reunion from the era of former coach Tom Miller, who led the program from the 1986-87 season through the 1989-90 season. The highlight of that four-year stint was a run to the 1990 Big Eight title game as the bottom seed of the league tournament, which ended with a loss to Oklahoma in Miller’s final game. The group will be recognized during Sunday’s contest…The Buffs had won eight of its previous nine games against the Cougars before suffering an overtime loss at WSU three weeks ago. CU is 5-0 all-time at home against WSU…White paced the Buffs with 25 points and six assists last month at WSU. George King went 3-for-5 on 3-pointers and finished with 18 points…The Buffs have gone 51-for-67 (.761) at the free throw line over the past three games, raising the team FT percentage from .693 to .701.
At this pace, George King will become the Colorado Buffaloes’ leading rebounder in another game or two.
It has been a quick ascension on the glass for the junior guard. Yet it has been a project years in the making.
Even during the redshirt year King took two seasons ago during his true sophomore year, CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle routinely implored King to take better advantage of his athletic skills on the glass. King is coming off his sixth double-digit rebounding effort of the season, a streak he will look to continue when the Buffs host Washington State on Sunday night.
“George is a coachable guy, but I think in Brooklyn is what we’ve talked about when the light kind of went for him,” said Boyle, referring to 13-rebound efforts King recorded early this year in consecutive games against Notre Dame and Texas. “I think it’s something he starts to take pride in. And when you start taking pride in something, you try to do it on a regular basis. Hopefully that’s what’s happening with him.
“I’m really proud of him. I am hard on him, but I’m hard on him because I know how great he can be. He’s got a chance to be a really, really special player. I think he’s gotten better every year in certain aspects.”
After Thursday’s win against Washington — highlighted by a 21-point, 12-rebound performance from King — Boyle described some of King’s rebounds as “Andre Roberson-ish,” a nod to Roberson’s ability to grab rebounds in traffic that led to the two best single-season rebounding totals in CU’s history under Boyle’s tutelage in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
King jokingly said on Saturday those were “George King-type rebounds.” At this pace that phrase might become part of the lingo for CU fans.
King’s recent surge has left him with a rebounding average of 7.2 per game — just a tick behind the team-leading total of 7.3 held by senior Wesley Gordon who, along with Xavier Johnson, are slated to return Sunday night from a two-game suspension due to a violation of team rules.
With the Buffs’ outside shooters facing fewer wide-open looks this year without Josh Scott drawing double-teams in the lane, King has had to adjust his game on the fly this year. While his 3-point percentage has been on the rise of late, his .379 mark remains appreciably behind the Pac-12 Conference-leading .456 mark he produced last year. Using his sturdy 6-foot-6 frame to mix it up inside has helped King uncover other ways to score.
“I’ve been scoring off my offensive rebounding, but also my mid-range game,” King said. “Our bigs aren’t being doubled as much in the post, which is fine. So I take the ones I can get, the ones the defense may not be expecting.”
Sunday’s date against Washington State offers an opportunity for the Buffs to continue a resurgence that has seen the team win four of its past five games. The Cougars have lost three in a row and four of five since posting an overtime win against the Buffs three weeks ago. A victory would move CU into a tie for seventh in the league — still not a headline the Buffs would prefer, yet a solid slotting nonetheless heading into the final five regular season games after starting 0-7 in league play.
“A good team — four seniors in their starting lineup. People don’t talk about Washington State but they are a sneaky-good team,” Boyle said. “They’ve been in every game the last two or three weeks. They’ve gotten much better. We have our hands full. They have some tough matchups.”