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Chance to start anew the mission for CU Buffs at Pac-12 Conference tournament

Struggling Buffs try to get back on track in first-round date against Washington State

Colorado’s McKinley Wright IV, left, and Washington State’s Isaac Bonton, chase down a loose ball during the January 23, 2020 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

As far as McKinley Wright is concerned, his team’s late-season losing streak is a thing of history. A blip fading in the rearview mirror. A page from a story still unfolding, never to be revisited again.

The reality, of course, is much different. The Colorado Buffaloes enter the Pac-12 Conference tournament as a former league title contender attempting to shake off a four-game losing streak that shook up a memorable season with a harsh buzz kill.

The theme this week for the Buffs is to forget about the regular season, both the highs and the recent lows, to focus on the new season at hand. And for CU, that means taking care of business in the postseason opener Wednesday night in Las Vegas against Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.

With head coach Tad Boyle attempting to remind his team of the many positives they accumulated over the season instead of the recent negatives, Wright and the rest of the Buffs spent a film session earlier this week heavy on season highlights.

“It’s gone,” Wright said of CU’s recent struggles. “We did the scouting report on Washington State. We’ve seen some film on how good we can be. We watched about 20 clips on offense of great possessions we had. We watched about 10 clips on defense of great clips we had. We all believe in each other and we know we can get this thing turned back around in the right direction.”

Working in the Buffs’ favor going into the matchup against the Cougars is the program’s track record of early success at the league tournament under Boyle. In his nine previous seasons at the helm, Boyle’s club has never lost a first-round matchup in any conference tournament. That streak includes first-round wins against the Cougars in 2016 and 2017.

“I think the fact we haven’t lost a first round game really doesn’t mean a whole lot to these guys. To our staff it certainly does and it’s something we take pride in,” Boyle said. “The juniors that we have, they’ve won the first game the last two years. The sophomores won last year. I guess it means a little something, but it doesn’t mean anything to Washington State. It’s a new tournament, a new deal.

“I think our players are excited about the new opportunity and the new season. That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re not dwelling on the past. We’re going to hopefully learn from the past. And the biggest thing I want to learn from is the fact that our defense and our rebounding has got to be good enough to win a game in Las Vegas when we’re not shooting the ball well.”

Being able to shoot the ball well has been elusive for the Buffs during their losing streak, but it has been troublesome for Washington State for much of the season. The Cougars ranked last in Pac-12 games in overall field goal percentage (.385) and finished ninth in 3-point percentage (.314), though they boast a couple of explosive scorers in first team All-Pac-12 selection CJ Elleby as well as Isaac Bonton. Like the Buffs, WSU doesn’t exactly enter the tournament on a hot streak, having lost six of its past seven games.

“They’re a team that’s very dangerous,” Boyle said. “They rely on pace of play and getting a certain number of shots up. If they’re making threes and getting the ball into the lane and to the rim, they’re in almost every game they play. They haven’t gotten blown out of a lot of games.”

(11) Washington State Cougars vs. (6) CU Buffs

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. MT, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Washington State 15-16, 6-12 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 21-10, 10-8.

COACHES: Washington State — Kyle Smith, 1st season (15-16, 179-138 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (210-133, 266-199 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Washington State — F CJ Elleby, So., 18.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg; G Issac Bonton, Jr., 15.3 ppg, 3.9 apg; F Jeff Pollard, Sr., 8.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Jr., 14.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.1 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg, .525 field goal percentage; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 10.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs should be able to shake off their recent defensive woes against a Cougars team that ranked last in Pac-12 games in field goal percentage at .385. CU also should have a distinct advantage on the glass. The Buffs ranked second in league games with a plus-3.5 average rebounding margin, while WSU finished 11th at minus-3.2.

NOTES: The winner plays third-seeded Arizona State on Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. MT…The teams met just once during the regular season, with the Buffs posting a 78-56 win at home on Jan. 24. Four players scored in double-figures for the Buffs, led by 16 points from senior Lucas Siewert and a 10-point, 10-assist double-double from Wright…Bey needs eight rebounds to become the eighth CU player to hit the 800 mark in his career…Washington State senior guard Jervae Robinson, a native of Aurora who played at Overland High, joined Wright and Bey this week on the Pac-12 All-Defensive team…Bey posted the 31st double-double of his career during Saturday’s loss at Utah, tying Ken Charlton for the ninth-most in program history…Despite the four-game losing streak, as of Tuesday CU still was No. 23 in the NET rankings.