CU men’s basketball preview: Cal Golden Bears
TIPOFF: Thursday, 9 p.m. MT, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Mountain; Radio — 850 AM.
RECORDS: Colorado 10-7, 1-4 Pac-12 Conference; Cal 5-13, 0-6.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (176-117, 232-183 overall); Cal — Wyking Jones, 2nd season (13-37 at Cal and overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 12.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.9 rpg; F Tyler Bey, So., 11.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 11.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg. Cal — F Justice Sueing, So., 14.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg; G Paris Austin, Jr., 13.1 ppg, 4.7 apg; G Matt Bradley, Fr., 10.3 ppg, 3.1 ppg.
NOTES: The Buffs are hoping to get Wright back in the lineup at Cal. CU’s point guard missed Sunday’s loss at Utah after suffering a dislocated shoulder Jan. 12 against Washington. Wright went 11-for-14 at the free throw line and finished with 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists in CU’s lone matchup against the Bears last year…D’Shawn Schwartz has gone 17-for-20 (.850) on free throws in Pac-12 play…Cal’s Matt Bradley leads the Pac-12 in overall 3-point percentage (.480) but he has gone just 8-for-24 on 3-pointers in league games…After going 5-for-10 on 3-pointers in a home win against Washington State on Jan. 10, CU guard Shane Gatling has gone 4-for-16 from the arc in the two games since…CU’s 11 turnovers Sunday against Utah was its second-lowest total of the season. All of those giveaways occurred in the first half…The Buffs complete a run of nine games away from home in 11 contests, including five road games in the first seven in the Pac-12, Saturday at Stanford (6 p.m. MT, FS1).
Colorado coach Tad Boyle didn’t mince words.
If the CU men’s basketball team wants to shake off its poor start in the Pac-12 Conference, and perhaps still make a charge toward the top half of the league standings, the directive Thursday night is clear.
The Buffaloes have to defeat Cal, plain and simple.
While CU generally has been awful on the road and is mired in a tailspin that has featured six losses in eight games, an opportunity to reverse the narrative of the season still remains for the Buffs. However, any turnaround almost certainly requires a win against the Golden Bears, one of the few teams that have sported a bigger limp than the Buffs at the outset of league play.
“I’d call it a must-win. I really would,” Boyle said. “For this team to get to where we want to get, which is postseason play and compete in this league and get in the upper half — which right now we’re not in the upper half. We want to get in the upper half. We’d like to compete for a championship. That may sound like a crazy statement, but that’s our goal when we start the season. It’s still an achievable one, but our margin for error for that is razor, razor thin.”
Since a decent game-opening run in what became a loss at Arizona in CU’s Pac-12-opener on Jan. 3, it generally has been an ugly display for the Buffs in league play. CU was blown out on the road at Arizona State and, after routing Washington State at home, the Buffs surrendered the first 12 points in a 77-70 loss against league-leading Washington.
The Buffs are coming off another lopsided loss, this time at Utah, but despite an 0-5 record at Cal’s Haas Pavilion since joining the Pac-12 there is a chance Bears could provide a timely remedy for CU. Through the first three weeks of Pac-12 play, Cal ranks last in league games in scoring (66.3), field goal percentage (.384), 3-point percentage (.303), and points allowed (83.3). The Bears also rank 11th in defensive field goal percentage (.516) and rebounding margin (minus-5.2).
“It’s huge. We need to win every single game going forward, so we’ve just got to start with this one,” CU sophomore guard D’Shawn Schwartz said. “If we win this one, we can start to get back on the right track. We’ve just got to make sure they don’t come out and punch us in the mouth. We’ve got to be the aggressor in this game. They’re really looking at this as a game they can win, but we can’t let them get that confidence.”
This week’s road swing, which continues Saturday at Stanford, concludes a stretch of nine games away from home out of 11 for the Buffs, who began that run with an impressive comeback victory at New Mexico on Dec. 11 but have gone 1-5 away from Boulder since. Although it has been a rough month for CU, getting results this week would keep the Buffs afloat in the league standings before playing seven of the final 11 regular-season games at home.
Still, Boyle was quick to remind his club that, given the way the Buffs have begun the Pac-12 slate, Cal likely is looking at Thursday’s matchup as a prime opportunity to finally get into the win column.
“They’re 0-6. They’re a hungry dog. They’re thinking ‘Colorado is coming to town,'” Boyle said. “I want our players to think that’s how Cal is thinking. Once we’ve thought about that, what matters is how we approach it and how we’re thinking. You’ve got to go out and earn what you get in league play.”