Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
CU men’s basketball preview: UCLA
GAME TIME: Sunday, 2 p.m., Coors Events Center.
MATCHUP: UCLA Bruins (19-9, 10-6 Pac-12 Conference) at Colorado Buffaloes (15-13, 7-9).
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: UCLA — Steve Alford, 5th season (115-54, 578-289 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (164-108, 220-174 overall).
LEADERS: UCLA — Scoring: G Aaron Holiday, Jr., 19.5 ppg; Rebounding: F Thomas Welsh, Sr., 10.6 rpg; Assists: Holiday, 5.8 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 14.3 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.1 rpg; Assists: Wright, 5.3 apg.
NOTES: It will be the final Pac-12 home game for King and fellow seniors Dom Collier, Josh Repine, and Tory Miller-Stewart, who still is contemplating a return to CU for a fifth season but is scheduled to take part in the Senior Day festivities…The Buffs had been 0-8 all-time at UCLA before posting a 68-59 win at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 13. King went 6-for-10 on 3-pointers and led the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds…Despite a three-game losing streak CU entered Saturday’s action around the Pac-12 as the league leader in defensive field goal percentage in conference games at .424…UCLA’s Holiday leads the Pac-12 in scoring in league games (21.0 ppg) but was held to just 10 points by the Buffs last month, his lowest scoring total in conference play…The Buffs are trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak since they went 0-7 to start the league schedule a year ago…CU completes the regular season at Utah on March 3 (5 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).
Five years ago, George King and his fellow freshmen with the Colorado men’s basketball team often daydreamed about the future.
Given their array of skills — three taller, long-armed guards along with a thick-bodied big man — it was easy to envision all the big wins they were certain to collect together in the near future. Pac-12 Conference titles. Cutting down nets. Even victories in the NCAA Tournament, a feat that eluded the Buffaloes for a third consecutive year at the end of King’s 2013-14 freshman season.
Certainly there have been big wins in King’s CU career, yet most of them have occurred without the three players he arrived in Boulder alongside — Jaron Hopkins, Dustin Thomas, and Tre’Shaun Fletcher. While all three of those players currently harbor NCAA tourney hopes with their respective programs, King goes into his final home game Sunday against UCLA nearing the end of a decorated career that could be over whenever the Buffs are eliminated from the Pac-12 Conference tournament next week.
“We have a little group text, a little Instagram group where we send each other funny stuff. Those are always my core guys who made the transition with me coming in from high school to college,” King said. “I didn’t see this coming. I remember sitting in the dorms saying man, all four of us together can be really scary. We’re all guys that can play on the perimeter, we all had size and could guard multiple positions. That was one thing that (Tad) Boyle recruited us for. It just didn’t happen that way.”
King played the fewest minutes among that 2013-14 freshman class and grudgingly accepted the unusual route of taking a redshirt season the following year. While King honed his game from the sidelines the Buffs’ run of three straight NCAA tourney appearances came to a screeching halt in a forgettable 16-18 season. When King returned to the floor the following season he was more than ready to showcase his newfound confidence, yet by then Hopkins had moved on to Fresno State and Thomas had transferred to Arkansas.
“If you asked that question when I was a redshirt sophomore I’d probably say otherwise. But looking back at it now I’m appreciative of it, and not just basketball-wise,” King said. “How to be transitioning into the professional world, and not necessarily basketball but the real world. How to be on time. Time management. That year helped me with all those things. Everything happens for a reason, and I’m really appreciative now of my redshirt year.”
King burst out of the gate in 2015-16 by making 4 of 8 3-pointers in a season-opening loss against No. 7 Iowa State and backed that up with a 9-for-14, 27-point, seven-rebound performance in a win at Auburn. That remains King’s career-best scoring effort.
King eventually landed the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player award, leading the league in 3-point percentage at .456 (also the second-best mark in CU history) while helping the Buffs return to the NCAA Tournament. After that season Fletcher left for Toledo, where he began the weekend ranked third in the Mid-American Conference in scoring at 18.7 points per game. King, meanwhile, was challenged to become a more consistent rebounder after the 2016 graduation of big man Josh Scott, and he has responded by leading the Buffs in rebounding the past two seasons.
While King goes into his final Pac-12 home game struggling to shake off a slump — he has gone 4-for-20 in the Buffs’ three-game losing streak — he also is set to finish his career squarely among some of the program’s all-time greats. He ranks 22nd in scoring with 1,241 points and needs just 13 more to surpass both Scott Wedman (1,251) and Blair Wilson (1,253) for 20th-place. King ranks 17th with 658 rebounds and needs just one more to match Richard Roby at No. 16.
King’s 172 made 3-pointers ranks fifth all-time, but a recent 1-for-10 slide from long-range has left King with a career mark of .400 and some work to do to prevail in a season-long assault on Mack Tuck’s career mark of .406.
“The thing about George King that I will always remember and appreciate is his commitment to making himself a better player,” Boyle said. “I can count on one hand the number of practices we’ve had where he hasn’t stayed after and shot. Every single day in the offseason he’s committed to his game. He’s committed to getting better. That started during his redshirt year. And he’s going to leave here at the top of some categories, and maybe if he doesn’t redshirt he isn’t there.”