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Topping UA Wildcats the next challenge for upstart CU basketball

Buffs are 0-7 at McKale Center since joining Pac-12

Colorado's D'Shawn Schwartz drives past Arizona's ... file photo
Saturday’s game against Arizona in Tucson represents a chance for the CU Buffs to sweep a two-game Pac-12 road series for just the third time.

TEMPE, Ariz. — A week ago, it was easy to question Colorado’s viability in the Pac-12 Conference race after a deflating late meltdown at home against Oregon State on Jan. 5.

Yet in the topsy-turvy grind of league play, just one week can completely reset the fortunes of each and every team. And for the 20th-ranked Buffs, on the heels of a rout of Utah on Sunday and the program’s first win at Arizona State in eight years on Thursday night, the outlook suddenly is far more encouraging.

Thursday’s 68-61 victory at ASU, coupled with Washington State’s home win against No. 8 Oregon, left the Buffs (3-1) as one of just three teams in the Pac-12 Conference with one loss or fewer, alongside USC (3-1) and Stanford (4-0), going into Saturday’s action.

While head coach Tad Boyle said it remains far too early to begin scoreboard watching for a Buffs team looking to pursue its first regular season Pac-12 championship, netting another road win Saturday afternoon at Arizona — where they have never won since joining the league — would bolster that championship pursuit far more than any of the other results on a busy Saturday around the league.

“I quit rooting for teams to win or rooting for teams to lose, because whenever I do it the opposite happens,” Boyle said. “We just have to take care of our business. (Thursday) we did. Now it’s time to go to Tucson and hopefully do something we’ve never done.”

The Buffs also have an opportunity to achieve a rare feat in the program’s Pac-12 history by posting a two-game sweep on the road in league play. In 32 previous two-game road series in the Pac-12, CU has recorded sweeps just twice. However, the current squad did it just last year when it won at USC and UCLA. Before that, the Buffs had not posted a Pac-12 road sweep since winning at the Oregon schools in 2013.

“We’ve got to take care of our business first,” CU senior Lucas Siewert said. “Not that we’re not worried about the other teams, but we’re worried about us. As long as we keep winning, it shouldn’t matter. Just keeping the same defensive mentality. Rebounding, we gave up 17 offensive rebounds (at ASU) and we can’t do that over there for sure. And just be us, be Colorado basketball and get stops and get buckets.”

While the Buffs’ defense was able to stymie the 3-point shooters from Arizona State, the matchup against the Wildcats presents a much different challenge.

UA features three freshmen — Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion, and Josh Green — who might be first-round picks in the NBA draft in June. Like the Buffs this past Sunday, Arizona dismantled Utah at home on Thursday night 93-77.

While the Buffs have held their past eight opponents to a .226 mark (35-for-155) on 3-pointers, they will face an Arizona squad that ranks first in the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage (.384). CU also will attempt to bounce back from a poor game on the boards that it got away with at ASU, as Siewart noted.

“Our defense and rebounding have to travel with us to Tucson as well,” CU point guard McKinley Wright IV said. “Arizona is a whole different animal. We’re going to watch film tomorrow (Friday) and just dial in to the scouting report and try to get another road win.”

No. 20 CU Buffs at Arizona Wildcats

TIPOFF: Saturday, 12:30 p.m. MT, McKale Center, Tucson, Arizona.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 14-3, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference; Arizona 12-5, 2-2.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (203-126, 259-192 overall); Arizona — Sean Miller, 11th season (276-94, 396-141 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Jr., 13.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.0 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .416 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg. Arizona — F Zeke Nnaji, Fr., 16.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, .669 field goal percentage; G Nico Mannion, Fr., 14.1 ppg, 6.2 apg; G Josh Green, Fr., 12.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: Through Thursday’s games, Arizona’s Nnaji ranked seventh in the nation with a .669 field goal percentage. Much like the Buffs’ guards did with ASU’s Remy Martin on Thursday, Bey and Battey will be challenged to make Nnaji work harder than usual to match his average production.

NOTES: Through Thursday’s games, the Buffs were ranked 19th in the NET and 22nd at…CU is 0-7 at the McKale Center since joining the Pac-12…Since going 0-for-4 on 3-pointers in the season opener, Bey has connected on 8 of 13 attempts from the arc…Battey has averaged 8.1 rebounds over the past seven games…CU senior Lucas Siewert went 4-for-6 on 3-pointers at Arizona State to improve his 3-point percentage to .429. He needs 11 more 3-pointers to break into the Buffs’ all-time top 10 in made 3-pointers. Siewert also is 18-for-18 at the free throw line this season…Schwartz has gone 0-for-10 on 3-pointers over the past three games…Arizona went 15-for-29 on 3-pointers in Thursday’s rout of Utah…The Buffs return home next week to host Washington State on Thursday (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) and Washington on Saturday (7 p.m., FS1).

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