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Two programs trending opposite directions collide as CU Buffs visit Washington

Buffs routed struggling Huskies last month in Las Vegas

BOULDER CO - Jan. 16, 2021: ...
BOULDER CO – January 16, 2021: Colorado’s Evan Battey drives to the basket during the CU-Stanford game in Boulder on January 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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It was less than two years ago that Washington defeated the Colorado Buffaloes in the Pac-12 Conference semifinals.

Playing in that game for the Huskies were two soon-to-be NBA draft picks in Matisse Thybulle and Jaylen Nowell. UW attempted to reload last year with a pair of one-and-done freshmen in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, both of whom were selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft.

When the Huskies host the Buffs on Wednesday night, the contest might offer an example of the pratfalls of attempting to build a team with fleeting talent versus the program-building approach of CU coach Tad Boyle.

Now bereft of NBA-type talent, fourth-year Washington coach Mike Hopkins finds himself on the hot seat as an 0-7 start in Pac-12 Conference play has put his back-to-back Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors during his first two seasons at UW squarely in the rear view mirror. Meanwhile, Boyle and the Buffs would have reached the 2020 NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and CU travels to Seattle as one of the hottest teams in the league with several talented freshmen playing sparse minutes and a recruiting class with huge potential on the way later in 2021.

While the future for the Buffs looks much brighter than it does for the program that eliminated them from the 2019 Pac-12 tournament, the present has grown quite promising as well. CU takes a four-game winning streak and a No. 7 ranking in the NET, as of Tuesday morning, into a rematch Wednesday night against a Huskies team they routed in a nonconference game a month ago.

“I can’t speak to Washington. I know they’ve had some good players. They do a great job recruiting,” Boyle said. “Mike Hopkins spent a long time at Syracuse and has connections all up and down the east coast. They’re going to sign good players. But the way we do it is a little bit different. I don’t know if it’s called antiquated now or not, but you sign high school kids, develop them. We’ve thrown in a grad transfer (Jeriah Horne) this year for the first time. Don’t rely on the transfer market a lot.

“You’ve got to adapt and be nimble and open minded, but also stick to what your philosophies are, what your core values are. And that’s recruit great kids from great families who want to get better and want to work hard and are all about the team and have high character.”

The Buffs entered Tuesday’s action around the nation ranked 11th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com, and if form holds true CU’s defense should be able to put the clamps on the Huskies. UW begins the week ranked last in the Pac-12 in overall field goal percentage (.403), 3-point percentage (.293), scoring average (64.8), and rebounding margin (-9.7).

Washington leading scorer Quade Green is averaging 15.4 points per game, but he is shooting just .283 from 3-point range. The two Huskies players who have attempted the most 3-pointers, Green and reserve guard Hameir Wright, are shooting a combined .245 (27-for-110).

CU thumped Washington last month in Las Vegas, building a 29-point lead before cruising to a 92-69 win. But the Huskies have been somewhat more competitive lately and are coming off a five-point loss at league-leading UCLA in which UW led by 10 at halftime. It was a near-upset Boyle has been reminding his club about.

“Washington is much improved,” Boyle said. “Going through their personnel, they’ve got good players. And they’ve been right there in a lot of games. They just haven’t pulled them out. They’re much better at home than they are on the road, like most teams. We’ve got to put our hard hats on. (Against) UCLA, they scored in the 70s. We barely scored in the 60s.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball at Washington Huskies

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 7 p.m. MT, Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 11-3, 5-2 Pac-12 Conference; Washington 1-11, 0-7.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (221-137, 277-203 overall); Washington — Mike Hopkins, 4th season (64-50 at UW and overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Sr., 15.2 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.5 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, R-Sr., 10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Sr., 9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg. Washington — G Quade Green, Sr., 15.4 ppg, 3.3 apg; G Jamal Bey, Jr., 7.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg; G Erik Stevenson, Jr., 7.3 ppg, .370 3-point percentage; F Nate Roberts, R-So., 5.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Buffs put Washington away quickly last month when the teams met in Las Vegas. With the Huskies coming off a near-upset on the road against Pac-12-leading UCLA, CU is likely to face a much more confident UW squad on its home turf.

NOTES: The Buffs are expecting the return of 7-footer Dallas Walton, who has missed the past six games due to an injury but scored a career-high 22 against UW last month…UW has received a boost lately from guard Erik Stevenson, who has averaged 18 points over the past three games while going 17-for-36…Since joining the Pac-12, CU is just 1-6 at Washington. The lone win occurred in 2015…CU’s Wright has posted a assist-to-turnover rate of 2.86 (40 assists, 14 turnovers) in Pac-12 games. His overall assist-to-turnover rate is 3.0…The Buffs rank second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (62.2). Since suffering an 88-75 loss at Arizona on Dec. 28, the Buffs have allowed an average of 63.5 points over six Pac-12 games…CU’s road trip continues Saturday night at Washington State (6 p.m. MT, ESPN2).