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Following big road win, CU Buffs men’s basketball trying not to look past Cal

Struggling Bears have lost past four visits to Boulder

BOULDER, CO - Dec. 16, 2020: ...
Coach Tad Boyle’s club is leading the nation in free throw percentage going in to the Buffs’ game against Grand Canyon. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It could turn out to be an opportunistic and celebratory afternoon Thursday for the Colorado Buffaloes.

After ending a nearly nine-year run of losses at Utah, the Buffs return home against a struggling Cal team that, on paper, should provide an opportunity for CU to continue its march up the Pac-12 Conference standings. Additionally, with his first assist of the game, senior point guard McKinley Wright IV will break a 37-year old program record held by one of the Buffs’ all-time greats, Jay Humphries.

Head coach Tad Boyle is trying to make sure the Buffs don’t put the party ahead of the achievements.

The Buffs are well aware the Bears gave them all they could handle a year ago, including a Cal win in Berkeley that contributed to CU’s season-ending slide. With another big game looming Saturday against Stanford, the Buffs are taking care to not look past Cal’s visit on Thursday afternoon.

“I had a little bit of bit of edge to myself at practice (Wednesday) because I know how good Cal can be. I know how tough they are,” Boyle said. “I know that they want to beat us just like Utah wanted to beat us and Oregon wanted to beat us and UCLA wanted to beat us. Everybody you play, nothing is going to be given to you in this league. I think our veterans understand that. I know our freshmen probably don’t, because they’re freshmen. So it’s incumbent upon me and our staff to make sure that we do not let that happen and do not overlook them.

“I can promise you as a coaching staff, we are not. I haven’t even thought about Stanford on Saturday.“

Cal is coming off its first Pac-12 win of the season, edging Washington at home, but the Bears have been trying to stay afloat without star guard Matt Bradley. A second team All-Pac-12 selection last year who torched the Buffs in both meetings, Bradley has missed the past two games due to an ankle injury.

Boyle offered an injury update on his own squad on Wednesday, saying 7-footer Dallas Walton is expected to miss his fifth consecutive game due to a lower leg injury, but Boyle also said he is “keeping my fingers crossed” that Walton will be available on Saturday against the Cardinal. Backup point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, who played just three minutes at Utah before exiting with an apparent ankle injury, will be a game-time decision.

As for Wright, he finished the game at Utah after going to the bench briefly while favoring the left shoulder that was surgically repaired after the 2018-19 season. Boyle expressed concern about Wright during his postgame media session following the win at Utah, but said his floor general is “fine” going into Thursday’s game against Cal.

Wright goes into what will be his 112th career game with 562 career assists, the same total Humphries compiled in 112 games with the Buffs in the 1980s.

“We’re preparing as if (Bradley) is going to be in the lineup. If he’s not, he’s not,” Boyle said. “He’s obviously a big key to their team. But Cal is one of those teams that you start watching film on them, you start looking at them and see how they play and look at their players, they’re better than their record. They’re more talented than their record.”

Cal Golden Bears at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Thursday, noon, CU Events Center.

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

RECORDS: Cal 6-7, 1-5 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 9-3, 3-2.

COACHES: Cal — Mark Fox, 2nd season (20-25, 306-201 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (219-137, 275-203 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Cal — G Matt Bradley, Jr., 17.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg; G Ryan Betley, R-Sr., 10.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg; G Makale Foreman, R-Sr., 10.3 ppg, 2.3 apg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 15.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.7 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, R-Sr., 10.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, .426 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Sr., 8.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, .429 3-point percentage.

WHAT TO WATCH: A Buffs offense that got on track in the second half of Monday’s win against Utah should have an opportunity to keep rolling against Cal. In Pac-12 games, the Bears have allowed their opponents to shoot .492 overall and .427 from 3-point range.

NOTES: Cal’s Matt Bradley ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring but has missed the past two games after suffering an ankle injury during a loss at Oregon State on Jan. 2. Bradley enjoyed two big games against the Buffs last season, shooting .538 overall  (14-for-26) and 7-11 on 3-pointers while averaging 16.5 points and 5.0 rebounds…Going into Wednesday’s play, CU was ranked 10th in the NET and 18th at KenPom.com…In his past three games against Cal, Wright has shot .656 (21-for-32) while averaging 17.7 points. Wright needs 12 points to surpass Randy Downs for 10th-place on CU’s all-time scoring list…The Buffs have struggled from 3-point range over the past three games, going 18-for-69 (.261)…Cal is 2-12 all-time at CU with four consecutive losses…CU hosts Stanford on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network).