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Backcourt defense for CU Buffs in good hands with Eli Parquet, McKinley Wright IV

Buffs open huge homestand with rematch against Washington State

BOULDER, CO - Jan. 14, 2021: ...
BOULDER, CO – January 14, 2021: Colorado’s Eli Parquet drives past Cal’s Makele Foreman during the January 14, 2021 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

McKinley Wright IV has earned Pac-12 Conference All-Defensive Team accolades three times in three seasons at Colorado and likely is on his way to a fourth. Eli Parquet is coming off two spectacular defensive outings and is making a statement he should join Wright on this year’s all-defensive team.

Together, Tad Boyle believes his team features the best backcourt defensive tandem of his 11-season tenure at CU. And yet there remains plenty of room for defensive improvement as the Buffs get set to open a critical five-game homestand on Wednesday night against Washington State.

“They’re right up there,” Boyle said. “Yahosh Bonner and Devon Beitzel at UNC my last year (2009-10), they were pretty special too defensively. Gritty, tough guys that played well off of each other. In my time at CU I think McKinley and Eli, if you look at both guys’ and plusses and minuses, probably the best we’ve had defensively as a tandem. They’re terrific.

“I would say they’re the best in the league, but there’s a little asterisk on that because I think when Bryce Willis was healthy and Daejon Davis was healthy at Stanford, those two guys are awful, awful good as well. And they’ve got size and athleticism to boot. Again, I wouldn’t trade Eli and McKinley for anybody. I love coaching them and I love their mindset. That’s the biggest thing when it comes to defense. It’s more of a mindset thing than it is a physicality thing. If you have the mindset and the physicality and the ability to play, then you’re pretty effective.”

Wright as an honorable mention All-Defensive Team selection as a freshman and sophomore and was named to the first team last year. Last week at Washington, in a game that otherwise defensive struggle for the Buffs, Parquet posted career-highs of three blocked shots and four steals before having his minutes limited down the stretch after getting struck in the eye. Parquet was even better in Saturday’s comeback win at Washington State, recording four blocked shots.

Despite boasting two of the top backcourt defenders in the league, the Buffs will look to regain a defensive edge missing last week at Washington and during the first 10 minutes at Washington State. CU enters the WSU having fallen to sixth in league games in defensive field goal percentage and 10th in league games in defensive 3-point percentage (.360).

While the Buffs no doubt are still lamenting last week’s missed opportunity at UW, at least the lesson learned remains a fresh memory. While playing an opponent twice is a matter of routine in the Pac-12, that loss at UW marked CU’s first repeat foe of the season, and the Buffs found themselves in a wire-to-wire battle against a squad they routed a month earlier. In this case, the Buffs are facing the Cougars for the second time in five days.

“It becomes a mental situation between the ears of finding your edge. And I hope our players can find their edge,” Boyle said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen it in practice the last two days, quite frankly. Now, leading up to the Washington game I thought we had our edge, and we didn’t come out and play with the edge. I haven’t sensed the edge the last two days at practice, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to play with it. If we don’t, we’re going to have issues. We’re going to have problems.”

Washington State Cougars at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center.

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

RECORDS: Washington State 9-6, 2-6 Pac-12 Network; Colorado 12-4, 6-3.

COACHES: Washington State — Kyle Smith, 2nd season (25-22, 189-144 overall);  Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (222-138, 278-204 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Washington State — G Isaac Bonton, Sr., 18.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg; G Noah Williams, So., 12.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, .490 3-point percentage; C Efe Abogidi, Fr., 9.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Sr., 14.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.7 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, G-Sr., 10.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, .426 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: Slow WSU’s outside tandem of Bonton and Williams, and the Cougars struggle. That duo combined for 26 points (13 apiece) in the first half Saturday against CU, but they scored just 11 in the second half as the Buffs took charge.

NOTES: CU begins the week tied with Arizona for fourth-place in the Pac-12, trailing UCLA (8-1 Pac-12) and USC (6-2)…The Buffs began Tuesday ranked 16th in the NET and 18th at KenPom.com…CU is 9-0 all-time at home against Washington State…The Cougars are on a five-game losing streak… In Pac-12 games, CU ranks third in scoring defense (68.0) and fourth in rebounding margin (plus-4.56)…Wright needs seven assists to become the first Buffs player to record 600 in his career…CU freshman Jabari Walker has shot .615 (24-for-39) over the past five games…Battey has averaged 12.8 points over the past six games…After falling behind 23-5 just 8:12 into Saturday’s game at WSU, the Buffs outscored the Cougars 65-36 the rest of the way…CU’s five-game homestand continues Saturday night against Utah (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).