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CU Buffs basketball wants to rekindle home magic against No. 4 ASU

Colorado fans try to distract the Oregon free throw shooter during on Jan. 28. The Buffs upset No. 10 Oregon at Coors Events Center last season.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado fans try to distract the Oregon free throw shooter during on Jan. 28. The Buffs upset No. 10 Oregon at Coors Events Center last season.

CU men’s basketball preview: No. 4 Arizona State

MATCHUP: No. 4 Arizona State Sun Devils (12-1, 0-1 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (8-6, 0-2).

GAME TIME: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — 850 AM.

COACHES: Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 3rd season (42-36, 84-56 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (157-101, 213-167 overall).

LEADERS: Arizona State — Scoring: G Tra Holder, Sr., 22.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Romello White, Fr., 8.6 rpg; Assists: G Shannon Evans, Sr., 4.7 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 16.0 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 7.9 rpg; Assists: Wright, 4.9 apg.

NOTES: The fourth-ranked Sun Devils are looking to end a three-game losing streak at the Coors Events Center…Since CU and Utah joined the Pac-12, ASU has posted just one win in its five trips through the Rocky Mountains. That victory was a one-point overtime win in Boulder on Feb. 16, 2013…Wright’s 69 assists already ranks 10th all-time among CU freshmen. Chauncey Billups holds the freshman record with 143 in the 1995-96 season…The Buffs have averaged 16.8 turnovers over the past four games…CU has lost five of its past six games…The Buffs host No. 14 Arizona Saturday at noon…The No. 4 and 14 rankings for ASU and Arizona are the best combined rankings for the two schools in the 70-year history of the AP poll.

In good seasons and in bad, there generally has been one consistent annual highlight for the Colorado men’s basketball team under coach Tad Boyle.

The Buffs have displayed a knack for rising to the occasion by knocking off nationally-ranked opponents on their home floor. Their best chance at continuing that trend in 2017-18 is at hand.

CU has defeated one of the nation’s best at the Coors Events Center at least once in six of the past eight seasons and in five of seven seasons under Boyle. The Buffs have an opportunity to continue that streak this weekend, beginning with a visit from No. 4 Arizona State on Thursday followed by a date against No. 14 Arizona on Saturday.

The Arizona schools are the only home dates for CU against clubs currently ranked in the nation’s top 25, though UCLA could easily trend in that direction before its Feb. 25 visit to Boulder.

“We talked about how we’ve had 15 wins over ranked opponents (nine at home),” Boyle said. “The first part of the scouting report is, ‘Guys, we’ve done this before.’ The common theme (in those wins) is you’ve got guys competing, playing at a high level, executing at a high level, and playing with energy for 40 minutes.

“The other common theme is this place, the Coors Events Center and our fans, have given us a great lift, a great boost, with our energy. There haven’t been a lot of top-20 wins in this building with it being empty. So it’s been a combination of a lot of things.”

The only seasons during Boyle’s tenure in which the Buffs did not earn a top-25 win at home was in the disappointing 2014-15 season and the 2011-12 season, when CU didn’t host a single ranked opponent and defeated No. 23 UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Even last year, which is best remembered for an 0-7 start in Pac-12 Conference play that essentially ruined the season, the Buffs still defeated No. 13 Xavier and No. 10 Oregon at the Coors Events Center.

“We just need to come out with a lot of energy,” CU senior guard Dom Collier said. “This is a good opportunity to get a good win and get a good feeling going into the rest of the Pac-12, especially on our home floor. We know how good this team is coming in here and how good the opportunity is coming towards us.”

Arizona State has been the surprise story of the Pac-12 so far, rising to prominence in the third season under coach Bobby Hurley behind an experienced and explosive backcourt. The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 and rank fifth nationally in scoring at 90.7 points per game.

Senior guard Tra Holder leads the Pac-12 individually in scoring (22.0 ppg), while the Sun Devils also rank second in the league in overall field goal percentage (.497) and 3-point percentage (.393). Holder is shooting .456 from 3-point range and another ASU senior guard, Shannon Evans, leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2).

“Arizona State is obviously high-octane,” Boyle said. “They’re going to score. We’ve just got to make them work for everything. Contested threes, tough twos in the lane or at the rim. What we cannot do is when they score, we can’t get our heads down and our shoulders slumping. Just come back down, execute on offense, get a great shot.”

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