On Dec. 20, Colorado center Dallas Walton enjoyed the game of his life.
With the Buffaloes facing off against Washington in a game that was played as a nonconference contest in Las Vegas, Walton tormented the Huskies for a career-high 22 points, going 6-for-7 from the field and a perfect 10-for-10 at the free throw line.
Walton hasn’t done much since. He played the next two games, going 1-for-3 with five points in each of those games against Grand Canyon and Arizona, but Walton has been sidelined the past six games due to what head coach Tad Boyle has described as a lower leg injury.
With the Huskies next in line for the surging Buffs, Walton is expected to return for this week’s two-game run in the Pacific Northwest, which begins Wednesday night at Washington (7 p.m. MT, ESPNU).
“We plan to have Dallas back for the Washington game,” Boyle said after his team’s fourth consecutive win Sunday against Stanford. “Obviously he played very well against them when we played them in Vegas in the nonconference game. We’ve played Washington before. They know us. We know them. They’ve been struggling right now but I’m telling you, they have quality players. They’ve got a quality coach. And Washington will be ready for us.
“It’s always hard to beat that team you’ve beaten a second time. If there’s an emotional edge, Washington probably has it. We’ve got to make sure that we match that edge and that we’re ready to play. We know that we’re going to have to play against the zone. We haven’t played against the zone probably since Washington very much. That will be part of our preparation and we’ve got a really good Washington State team after that. But first things first. We’ve got the Huskies and we’ve got to be ready to play. It’s not going to be easy. But the way you separate yourself in any league in any part of the country at any level, is you have to win on the road if you want to give yourself a chance in the conversation for a championship. We’re a long ways from that right now because nobody has beaten UCLA. But we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and take care of our opportunities as they come.”
The Buffs begin the week in an enviable position in both the Pac-12 standings and the national NCAA Tournament picture.
At 11-3 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12, CU is in sole possession of fourth place in the league standings, trailing two teams with one Pac-12 loss — USC and Oregon — that suffered those losses against the Buffs. More importantly, the Buffs woke up Sunday ranked seventh in the NET rakings and 13th at KenPom.com.
The Buffs have won more than three Pac-12 road games just once since joining the league, but they already have two league road wins to their credit with games still to play at five of the six teams currently making up the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings. That includes Washington, which the Buffs routed by 23 points last month in Las Vegas.
“Same focus. Same preparation, determination. We take no opponent lightly,” CU senior forward Jeriah Horne said. “We know that each and every game we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. And we expect to get everybody’s best shot.”