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CU men’s basketball getting more comfortable on the road

Buffs face three straight games away from Boulder to begin Pac-12 play

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 14, 2020: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s McKinley Wright IV shoots over University of Northern Colorado’s Kur Jockuch at the CU Events Center in Boulder on Dec. 14, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Home court advantage probably won’t mean what is usually does during college basketball’s pandemic season.

Nevertheless, playing on the road will remain incrementally more difficult than playing at home. And the Colorado Buffaloes should be ready for the Pac-12 Conference road show, as the Buffaloes haven’t enjoyed much home cooking this season, something they will catch up on in a literal sense during a three-day holiday respite.

The Buffs certainly earned their Christmas down time on Tuesday night, outlasting Grand Canyon in a back-and-forth, heavyweight bout-type battle for their fourth consecutive win. The showdown in Las Vegas also marked the Buffs’ fifth game away from home in seven nonconference games.

After cruising to victory in the first three of those four straight wins, the Buffs absorbed all they could handle from Grand Canyon, which outrebounded CU handily and shot .509 from the field. It was the Buffs’ final tune-up before they begin Pac-12 play next week with three consecutive road games, starting with a date at Arizona on Monday (7:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks) followed by a two-game swing through Los Angeles.

“We’re going to learn a lot. What a challenge,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “At Arizona, at USC, at UCLA, there’s no gimmies there. Then we come back and we’ve got four at home after that. You’re playing 20 league games. That’s what we’re scheduled for and hopefully we can get them all in. A wonderful opportunity in Tucson.

“Being on the road is one thing. This year it might be a little bit different because there’s no fans. We’ve played five of our seven nonconference games away from home. So our guys are used to that. Hopefully we’ll play like it. Because we won’t have a full Arizona McKale Center that’s intimidating sometimes. I’d have rather caught Arizona a little bit earlier because their one of those teams who gets better as the year goes on. We’ve got to be ready to roll when the ball’s tipped off in Tucson.”

Indeed, the Buffs were supposed to catch Arizona earlier, but the teams’ scheduled Pac-12 opener on Dec. 2 was postponed as CU dealt with a 48-hour coronavirus shutdown. After struggling on offense in a loss at then-No. 12 Tennessee on Dec. 8, the Buffs’ four-game winning streak and impressive play has coincided with getting the team’s entire rotation in place following coronavirus absences through the first three games, most notably to starters D’Shawn Schwartz and Eli Parquet.

Perhaps Boyle wanted to catch the Wildcats sooner. But there is little question his team is playing much better basketball than they were in early December.

“It says a lot about this team,” CU forward Evan Battey said. “We didn’t hit our goals for ourselves (against Grand Canyon), two of those goals we like to hit in rebounding and field goal percentage defense. But there’s other areas of the game. And we battled in those areas. As long as you compete in all areas, you have a good chance to win.”

Notable

With seven assists and only two turnovers against Grand Canyon, CU point guard McKinley Wright’s assist-to-turnover rate improved to 3.15 (41 assists, 13 turnovers)…The Buffs went 8-for-17 on 3-pointers against Grand Canyon and have connected at a .434 clip (33-for-76) from the arc during their four-game winning streak…After going 18-for-21 on free throws against Grand Canyon, CU retained its perch as the nation’s top free throw shooting team (.858).

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