Glass work improving for Dallas Walton as CU basketball hosts Cal

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado Dallas Walton is averaging 4.1 rebounds in Pac-12 play and has averaged an even five per game over the past four games .

CU men’s basketball preview: Cal

MATCHUP: Cal Golden Bears (8-16, 2-9 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (13-10, 5-6)

GAME TIME: Wednesday, 9 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM.

COACHES: Cal — Wyking Jones, 1st season (8-16 at Cal and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (162-105, 218-171 overall).

LEADERS: Cal — Scoring: G Don Coleman, Jr., 16.4 ppg; Rebounding: F Marcus Lee, Sr., 7.6 rpg; Assists: G Darius McNeill, Fr., 2.5 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 14.6 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.3 rpg; Assists: Wright, 5.3 apg.

NOTES: Cal has won just 2 of 12 games all-time in Boulder…With 621 career rebounds, King needs just one more to break into the top 20 among CU’s all-time leaders. King needs seven rebounds to jump up to 19th place. King also needs just one 3-pointer to match former teammate Askia Booker for the fifth-most all-time at CU…Buffs freshman D’Shawn Schwartz is 8-for-17 on 3-pointers in Pac-12 play…Cal had lost nine consecutive games before posting a 74-70 win Saturday at home against Oregon State…Cal’s Marcus Lee averaged 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in three seasons at Kentucky before transferring…CU completes a three-game homestand Sunday afternoon against Stanford (2 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

Until the past three months, Dallas Walton rarely had to fight for rebounds in competitive situations.

Of course, Walton spent much of his prep career at Arvada West on the sideline after suffering torn knee ligaments in consecutive years. And even when Walton was on the court for the Wildcats or on the club circuit, rebounds often were easy to gobble up simply by virtue of his 7-foot frame.

Rebounds don’t come quite so easily at the Pac-12 Conference level, a lesson Walton has learned with plenty of bumps and bruises through his first season with the Colorado Buffaloes. The redshirt freshman has been challenged by head coach Tad Boyle to rebound consistently at a high level, and while Walton still has a ways to go, he has displayed marked improvement on the glass in recent weeks heading into CU’s Wednesday night league battle at home against Cal.

“It’s definitely different. In AAU and even in high school it was a lot easier to just kind of go out and get 10, 15 boards a game because there’s just not a lot of other big dudes that are really going to the glass like that,” Walton said. “It was definitely a shock and I used last year to transition and help me into this year.”

Walton still is only averaging 3.5 rebounds per game in 23 contests this season, but that figure has climbed slowly in recent weeks. Walton is averaging 4.1 rebounds in Pac-12 play and has averaged an even five per game over the past four games heading into the battle against Cal and its solid inside tandem of 7-foot-1 Kingsley Okoroh and 6-foot-11 Marcus Lee.

That duo is averaging a combined 13.1 rebounds per game. Walton will be a key figure in slowing down those two on the glass while he also attempts to reverse a recent shooting slump that has led to a 6-for-20 mark over the past three games.

“It’s getting better and it’s getting a little more consistent,” Boyle said. “He’s around that five and six rebound total every game. I want to see that nine or 10. But yeah, he’s getting better. He’s battling. We’re going to need everybody, though. It’s not just Dallas. We’re going to need Lucas (Siewert). We’re going to need Tyler (Bey). We’re going to need our guards. Everybody is going to have to get down in there and help us defensively.”

While Boyle has expressed some trepidation toward Cal’s strength in the paint, the rebuilding Golden Bears nonetheless present the sort of opponent the Buffs should be able to handle at home. In Pac-12 games, Cal ranks last in field goal percentage (.391) and will be going against a CU club that currently leads the league defensively in that category at .422. Cal also ranks last in league games in 3-point percentage (.281) and defensive 3-point percentage (.443).

“We have to protect the paint against these guys,” Boyle said. “These guys are great at getting the ball inside. They’re great at driving the ball inside. Their perimeter guys really drive it and attack the rim. We’re going to have to protect the paint and we have to rebound, because these guys are the best offensive rebounding team in our league.”

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