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CU basketball’s Arizona battle features teams trending opposite directions

  • Colorado's Evan Battey returned to practice Saturday morning and hopes...

    Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post

    Colorado's Evan Battey returned to practice Saturday morning and hopes to play Sunday against Arizona.

  • Colorado's Evan Battey had eight points and two rebounds before...

    Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post

    Colorado's Evan Battey had eight points and two rebounds before back spasms sent him to the bench against Arizona State.



CU men’s basketball preview: Arizona Wildcats

GAME TIME: Sunday, 6 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM.

RECORDS: Arizona 14-11, 5-7 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 15-9, 6-6.

COACHES: Arizona — Sean Miller, 10th season (261-85, 381-132 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (181-119, 237-185 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Arizona — G Brandon Randolph, So., 13.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg; F Chase Jeter, Jr., 11.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg; G Justin Coleman, Sr., 9.5 ppg, 3.4 apg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 13.5 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.9 rpg; F Tyler Bey, So., 12.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 11.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg.

NOTES: Arizona has lost its past two visits to CU…Wright and CU’s Evan Battey both are shooting .552 in league games…Wright owned a .250 mark on 3-pointers when he sat out the Jan. 20 loss at Utah due to a left shoulder injury. He has gone 9-for-22 in the seven games since, pushing his season mark to .306…Bey has recorded three double-doubles in the past four games, averaging 16.8 points and 11 rebounds during that span. Bey grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds in Wednesday’s win against Arizona State. Wright led the Buffs with 17 points and six rebounds, though he committed six turnovers…The Wildcats topped the Buffs 64-56 in the Pac-12 opener Jan. 3 in Tucson. The Buffs hit the road next week for the final regular-season road trip of the year, playing at Washington State on Wednesday (8 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network) and Washington on Saturday (8:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

Colorado is preparing to face Arizona’s Brandon Williams Sunday night, regardless of how much time the Wildcats’ standout freshman has missed of late.

Whether Arizona has to prepare for the Buffaloes’ Evan Battey remains to be seen.

Colorado’s redshirt freshman big man returned to practice Saturday morning on the heels of a back injury that sent him to the bench for the second half of Wednesday’s win against Arizona State as well as a quick trip out of town to attend the funeral of his maternal grandmother.

With injuries and suspensions having greatly whittled the Buffs’ depth, CU can ill afford to lose Battey long if they hope to keep adding to the four-game win streak they will take into Sunday night’s home battle against the Wildcats, who are mired in a rare and historic losing streak. Yet on Saturday CU head coach Tad Boyle reiterated the club will take the big picture view with Battey’s injury.

“He’s feeling better. He went through a workout and hopefully we’ll have him ready to go,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We still don’t know how he’ll feel at six o’clock (Sunday), but hopefully we’ll have him.

“Any time you’re dealing with a kid’s health, especially with a lower back, you’ve got to think long term. You’ve got to think big picture. But at the end of the day, Evan has to make the call. It’s his back. He knows how it feels. He knows what it feels like normally. He knows where it’s at. So Evan is going to have to make this call. Much like McKinley (Wright) had to make with his shoulder. I trust Evan. I don’t question his toughness. I know if he can play, he’ll play.”

Battey said he first felt an issue with his back about a month ago, but that it became far more aggravated last week at USC — which arguably was the most significant performance of his short CU career. Playing at his mother’s alma mater in his hometown with a slew of family and friends looking on, Battey went 5-for-7 with 14 points, six rebounds, one assist, and one steal without a turnover in 27 minutes.

Battey was setting a similar pace in Wednesday’s win against ASU, going 3-for-5 with eight points and two rebounds before back spasms sent him to the bench. On Thursday night Battey had to get on a plane to attend the family funeral, but on Saturday he said adding two cramped flights to the equation hasn’t hindered his chances at a possible return Sunday.

“It’s feeling good,” Battey said. “It’s like a pinched nerve, like I bruised a joint in my back. I did PT (Saturday) morning. I worked out, got some stretching in. Hopefully it will be better but I’m taking it one day at a time.

“It was tough, but I stretched before I got on the plane and when I got off. I was doing a lot of stretching in the hotel these past two days.”

Arizona, meanwhile, has played the past four games without Williams, a freshman considered one of the nation’s top recruits. The Wildcats’ six-game losing streak is the program’s longest since the 1983-84 season, which was Lute Olson’s first year as UA’s head coach. Arizona is coming off a loss Thursday at Utah, and a win by the Buffs Sunday night would push the Wildcats deeper into rarely charted territory in the bottom quarter of the league standings.

Williams paced the Wildcats with 14 points and six assists in the teams’ previous meeting, a 64-56 Arizona in Jan. 3 in the Pac-12 opener.

“Every league game for us means the same,” Boyle said. “I know it’s easy to say that. People kind of maybe roll their eyes when they hear a coach say that. But the fact of the matter is this game counts just as much in the standings as the Arizona State game did or the USC, or the Washington State game will next Wednesday. Arizona is Arizona. We have great respect for their program. We’ve got to be ready to go”

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