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Ending desert drought a tall task for No. 20 CU Buffs at Arizona State

Buffs embark on season’s first Pac-12 road trip

Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz, left, and Tyler Bey crash the boards on Utah’s Both Gach and Branden Carlson, during the January 12, 2020 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Colorado clearly has Oregon’s number at the CU Events Center, where the Ducks have never won.

The opposite is true of the Buffaloes almost every time they visit the state of Arizona. Typically, the desert is where CU momentum goes to die.

No current Buffs player — and, really, no CU player in quite some time — has ever tasted victory at either Arizona State or Arizona. CU, ranked 20th in the latest AP top 25, will try to change that during its first road series of the Pac-12 Conference schedule, beginning Thursday night at Arizona State.

Since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs are 0-7 at Arizona, where they complete the trip on Saturday afternoon, and 1-6 at ASU, where they have suffered six consecutive losses since winning in Tempe in 2012 in their first season in the league.

“We haven’t won in Arizona at all. It’s going to be big,” CU junior forward Tyler Bey said. “None of us have won there. You get tired of losing there. We’re a great team. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the effort. We just have the team to go out there and win.”

CU head coach Tad Boyle has warned his club that Arizona State is not the same club the Buffs defeated in the season-opener, posting an 81-71 win in the Pac-12’s annual game in China. Yet the same can be said about the Buffs since their last visit to Tempe a little more than a year ago.

CU’s one-sided 83-61 defeat that night showcased a Buffs team trending the wrong direction.

Coming off a rough showing at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, the loss at ASU dropped CU to 0-2 in the league as the Buffs adjusted to life without veteran guards Deleon Brown (academics) and Namon Wright (injury), both of whom were recently sidelined. The Buffs also were adjusting to life with an injured McKinley Wright IV, who had just suffered the left shoulder injury he played through until undergoing surgery immediately after the season.

The Buffs eventually took off and return to ASU looking to end the program’s desert drought. Last week, the Sun Devils took No. 8 Oregon to overtime and posted a road win against the same Oregon State team that stunned CU with a late rally last week in Boulder. After Sunday’s rout of Utah, Boyle said his club wouldn’t make amends for the OSU setback until it started picking up results on the road. The first opportunity to do so arrives Thursday night.

Boyle believes CU’s most recent run of road games — at Kansas, at Colorado State, and in Chicago against Dayton — has the veteran Buffs ready for the rigors of the Pac-12 road schedule.

“I look at our game in Chicago. For anybody that was there, it was a road game,” Boyle said. “Dayton fans outnumbered the Buff fans that were there five or six to one. It’s going to be more than that in Tempe, and certainly more than that in Tucson. We’ve had that road environment. These guys, it’s not their first time. Juniors and seniors understand what to expect.  All these guys have been through it before. We know what we’re up against and we’re ready for the challenge.”

Though the Buffs defeated ASU in the season opener, the Sun Devils played that game without junior forward Romello White, whose rebounding average of 9.6 ranks second in the Pac-12 behind Bey’s 9.8 per game. Add in the battle of premier point guards between Wright and ASU’s Remy Martin, and breaking the losing streak at ASU won’t happen easily.

“He’s probably their head of the snake when it comes to defense,” Bey said of White. “Coach AC (Anthony Coleman) talked about how tough they are with him. Without him, they weren’t as good on defense. He’s also a good offensive rebounder. We have to box him out and just contain him.”

No. 20 CU Buffs at Arizona State Sun Devils

TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m. MT, Desert Financial Arena, Tempe, Ariz.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 13-3, 2-1 Pac-12 Conference; Arizona State 10-6, 1-2.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (202-126, 258-192 overall). Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 5th season (83-64, 125-84 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Jr., 13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.1 rpg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 11.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .432 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg. Arizona State — G Remy Martin, Jr., 19.1 ppg, 3.9 apg; G Alonzo Verge Jr., Jr., 12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg; F Romello White, Jr., 10.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The battle of big men. Bey and ASU’s White are the top two rebounders in the Pac-12, but it is the 262-pound Battey likely to draw the primary defensive assignment against the 220-pound White.

NOTES: The home side has won the past 10 campus matchups between the teams. CU has won the two neutral-floor battles in that time, winning at the 2018 Pac-12 tournament and again in the season opener on Nov. 8 in the Pac-12’s annual game in China…ASU erased a 17-point second-half lead for the Buffs in that China game to tie the game with 10:15 remaining, but CU outscored ASU 22-12 the rest of the way. Wright paced the Buffs with 17 points and five assists, while Bey and Schwartz added 15 points apiece. Martin tallied 23 points with eight assists for ASU…CU was just 5-for-26 on 3-pointers in last year’s loss at ASU…Since allowing Northern Iowa to connect on 14 3-pointers in a home loss on Dec. 10, the Buffs have held their past seven opponents to a .225 mark on 3-pointers (29-for-129)…The Buffs’ first Pac-12 road trip continues Saturday afternoon at Arizona (12:30 p.m. MT, FOX).