CU Buffs look to solve Washington zone D in Las Vegas matchup

Buffs take on struggling Huskies in nonconference affair

Colorado's Dallas Walton hooks over Washington's ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Dallas Walton hooks over Washington’s Bryan Penn-Johnson during the Jan. 25, 2020 game in Boulder.

On occasion, Colorado has lit up the active zone defense employed by Washington. At other times, the Huskies have completely shackled the Buffaloes’ attack.

Sometimes those extremes have occurred within the same game.

The last time the two Pac-12 foes met, in January at the CU Events Center, the Buffs prevailed but not without running extremely hot and then ice cold against the defense UW coach Mike Hopkins helped make famous as an assistant at Syracuse.

In that game, it was the proverbial tale of two halves for CU against the Huskies’ zone. During the first half, the Buffs torched that UW zone for seven 3-pointers and 51 points. In the second half, CU held on for the win while going 0-for-8 from long range and scoring just 25 points.

The lesson, according to CU head coach Tad Boyle, is to not relent against a defense adept at putting the clamps down. The Buffs will put that to the test on Sunday night in Las Vegas as the rivals collide in a contest that will be played as a nonconference game.

“They’re a talented team and they’re a team that can lull you to sleep,” Boyle said. “Last year, for example, we scored 51 points in the first half against Washington in the first half at home and we made seven threes. In the second half, we made zero threes and we scored 25 points. Not that you’re going to have 51 in every half, but we can’t have those 25-point halves. We have to figure out a way to score if the jump shot’s not going in. They way you do that is get the ball in the paint, get the ball inside, attacking the basket, getting to the foul line, playing inside-out.”

While Washington’s defense still has the ability to make any game miserable for opposing offenses, it is the Huskies’ struggling offense that has led to a rough start in Hopkins’ fourth season at the helm.

After playing Oregon tough in a three-point Pac-12 loss a week ago, the Huskies turned around and suffered an eight-point loss at home Wednesday against Montana. UW enters Sunday’s game shooting just .393 overall with a .258 mark on 3-pointers. Washington has posted more turnovers than assists in all six of its games so far this season and is averaging 14.5 turnovers per game.

Although the game will be logged as a nonconference game, Sunday’s matchup essentially is the start of league play for the Buffs, with Tuesday’s date against Grand Canyon counting as the final scheduled nonconference game of the season. The competition in Las Vegas should serve as a competitive bridge between the teams CU thumped at home this week, Northern Colorado and Omaha, and the three Pac-12 road dates the Buffs will face after Christmas at Arizona, USC, and UCLA.

“Our veterans know (UW’s zone defense),” Boyle said. “They know what’s worked. They know what hasn’t worked. So it’s kind of a refresher course, if you will, and fortunately we have a couple days to do that. We spent a lot of time on it (Friday). We’ll spend a lot of time on it (Saturday). We’ve got the shootaround (Sunday). We’ll watch probably another hour’s worth of film between now and the time we tip off to make sure our guys understand how we want to attack it, where do we want to get the ball, how do we want to operate.

“And then we just have to go out and make plays. Because that’s what you have to do against that thing. You have to be basketball players, and I think we’ve got guys that can do that. Now we’ve got to go prove it.”

Washington Huskies vs. CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Sunday, 8 p.m. MT, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.

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

RECORDS: Washington 1-5; Colorado 4-1.

COACHES: Washington — Mike Hopkins, 4th season (64-44 at Washington and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (214-135, 270-201 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Washington — G Quade Green, Sr., 14.8 ppg, .417 3-point percentage; F Nate Roberts, R-So., 8.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg; F Hameir Wright, Sr.,6.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Sr., 17.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5.0 rpg, .648 field goal percentage; F Jeriah Horne, Sr., 10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, .556 3-point percentage; C Dallas Walton, R-Jr., 9.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs will need a few 3-point shots to go down to solve UW’s zone defense. In wins against Northern Colorado and Omaha this past week, CU went 17-for-39 (.436) from the arc.

NOTES: This will be the second straight year the Buffs have played a Pac-12 foe in a nonconference game. CU topped Arizona State in the opener of the 2019-20 season in the league’s annual game in China…Wright posted 15 assists against just one turnover in the Buffs’ home wins against UNC and Omaha. Wright also shot 14-for-18 (.778) in those games…Wright needs six points to surpass Xavier Johnson for 11th-place on CU’s all-time scoring list…The Huskies had posted five consecutive wins against CU before losing in the teams’ last matchup in Boulder in January… Heading into Saturday’s games, the Buffs’ free throw percentage of .835 ranked fourth in the nation…The Buffs will conclude nonconference play at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday in the program’s first matchup against Grand Canyon (9 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks).