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Stanford a tough place for CU Buffs to try to get right

Buffs will try to regain defensive spark against top-shooting team in Pac-12

 Colorado's  Evan Battey rebounds in front of Stanford's Jaiden Delaire  during the February 8, 2020 Pac-12 game in Boulder.
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s Evan Battey rebounds in front of Stanford’s Jaiden Delaire during the February 8, 2020 Pac-12 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

STANFORD, Calif. — For a team that needs to get right, and quickly, this will be no easy task for the Colorado Buffaloes.

On Sunday, the 21st-ranked Buffs face a Stanford team it handled at home three weeks ago at home, but CU should expect a completely different sort of battle in the penultimate game of the regular season.

Three weeks ago, Stanford played most of the contest in Boulder without its best player, Oscar da Silva. The Cardinal also played without a starter in Bryce Wills, who has been on a shooting tear of late, though his status once again may be in question due to an injury suffered Wednesday against Utah. Moreover, a Buffs team that prides itself on defense has been vulnerable lately, and they will have to get that corrected against the top-shooting team in the Pac-12 Conference.

“They run their offense at a pace that’s unlike a lot of offenses,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “They really, really move the ball and they move their bodies at a high rate. So we’ve got to be dialed-in, locked in, to our game plan and the execution of that game plan.

“Da Silva is their leading scorer and leading rebounder. And Wills, he’s more than a role player. He’s terrific. Them with Wills and them without Wills, they’re a totally different team. He’s a terrific player. We’re preparing as if he’s going to play.”

Wills left Wednesday’s win against Utah with about nine minutes remaining, yet after missing the game in Boulder he has shot .543 (19-for-35) over the past five games, including a 25-point eruption on Feb. 15 against Arizona.

The Cardinal certainly will have da Silva this time around. The junior forward missed a significant portion of the first half at CU due to foul trouble, then suffered a head laceration early in the second half after colliding with CU’s Evan Battey. Da Silva finished with season-low totals of 13 minutes, five points, and two rebounds, and a player leading Stanford in scoring (16.1) and rebounding (6.5) can be expected to put up much bigger numbers against the Buffs in the rematch.

“We’re trying to get our spirit back, I think,” Battey said. “We used to be a defensive-minded team, but that has kind of left us. I don’t know why, but all I know is we have to get it back.”

The Buffs have built an NCAA Tournament-quality team behind standout defense for much of the season, but that defensive prowess has abandoned CU of late. Each of the past three opponents have shot at least 45 percent against the Buffs, and CU led only briefly Thursday night against a Cal team that had lost five of its previous six games. CU will have to get its defense back on track against a Stanford team that has posted a Pac-12-leading .460 field goal percentage in league games.

Boyle dismissed the idea his team needs to regain some confidence with the postseason around the corner. Regaining their toughness and competitive edge, however, is another matter.

“I just think it’s the toughness level, the intensity level, the competitiveness level that isn’t there,” Boyle said. “And that shows itself when your shots don’t go in and your head goes down. Your shots don’t go in and your body language just sucks. That’s where it shows. That’s what we can’t have. That’s what we have to be better at.”

No. 21 CU Buffs at Stanford Cardinal

TIPOFF: Sunday, 4 p.m. MT, Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 21-8, 10-6 Pac-12 Conference; Stanford 19-9, 8-7.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (210-131, 266-197 overall); Stanford — Jerod Haase, 4th season (67-58, 147-111 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 5.2 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg. Stanford — F Oscar da Silva, Jr., 16.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg; G Tyrell Terry, Fr., 15.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.7 apg; F Spencer Jones, Fr., 9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .430 3-point percentage.

WHAT TO WATCH: CU has struggled from 3-point range in the past two games, going 11-for-48 (.229). The Buffs will try to get back on track against a Stanford team that leads the Pac-12 in league games with a defensive field goal percentage of .276).

NOTES: Stanford (.460) and CU (.457) own the top two field goal percentages in Pac-12 games…Bey has been sitting on 99 blocks for the past two games while trying to become just the 10th CU player to collect 100 in his career…The Buffs had won three consecutive road games at Stanford before suffering a 75-62 loss there last year…Wright needs eight assists to join Jay Humphries as the only Buffs players to record 500 in their careers…Backup guard Daylen Kountz posted 46 assists against 41 turnovers as a freshman last year. Though he is playing fewer minutes, that assist to turnover rate has taken a huge hit, with Kountz owning just 20 assists against 30 turnovers…In a home win against Stanford on Feb. 8, CU went 8-for-8 on 3-pointers in the second half and made 10 in a row overall, setting a team record…The Buffs will be idle until next Saturday, March 7, when they complete the regular season at Utah.