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Arizona visit a chance for CU Buffs to get back on track

Buffs seek payback for Dec. 28 loss at Arizona

BOULDER, CO - Jan. 30, 2021: ...
BOULDER, CO – January 30, 2021: Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz shoots a three during the Pac-12 game between Utah and Colorado in Boulder on January 30, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle has balanced a fine line this week with his team.

Coming off a gut-wrenching home loss against Utah in which the Buffaloes squandered a 19-point lead over the final eight-plus minutes, the Buffs are teetering on the brink of desperation mode while also being hesitant to hit the panic button just yet.

Yes, the Utah loss was an unforgivable setback, and one that may haunt the Buffs if the remainder of the regular season continues to sour. However, that regular season still features ample opportunities to get back on track, though the Buffs would prefer to skip the waiting and return to the win column on Saturday night at home against Arizona.

“I think anybody who’s a part of our program, whether you’re a player or coach or a fan, feels the frustration of (the Utah) loss, without a doubt,” Boyle said. “But the bottom line is we have to put it behind us. The one thing I want our players to understand is it’s a fine line between winning and losing. The feeling you have when you win versus the feeling you have when you lose is like a 180 degree difference. But the difference between winning and losing is about one or two degrees.

“Our guys want to win. But…the Arizona game is one game. Just like the Utah game was one game. We want to win and we want to get back on that track, but it’s not like if we don’t win on Saturday our season’s over with, because it’s not. Sometimes you can put too much pressure on yourself or your team, but I don’t want to do that.”

Despite the ugly loss against Utah, the Buffs go into Saturday’s action third in the Pac-12 Conference standings, but just a half-game ahead of both Arizona and Stanford. As Boyle stated, the Buffs still will have plenty of basketball to play following Saturday’s showdown and the homestand finale on Monday against Oregon State.

Yet if CU doesn’t get back on track while at home, the path toward a top-four finish in the league will get exponentially more difficult. After playing Arizona and Oregon State within 48 hours, the Buffs will play their next four games on the road before completing the scheduled portion of the regular season at home against the league-leading Los Angeles schools. The Buffs still have a makeup date at home to be determined against Arizona State.

The Buffs still have a slight margin for error — as of Friday afternoon, CU remained a top-20 team in the NET and at KenPom.com — but they will have to try to get back on track against an Arizona team that defeated CU soundly in the Buffs’ Pac-12 opener on Dec. 28. The Wildcats enjoyed a torrid night from the field, with their .526 mark still counting as the best shooting percentage by a CU opponent this season.

“They whipped our (butts) and that’s not a good feeling. It wasn’t even close,” Boyle said. “Now, I did re-watch that game the other night, and we weren’t as bad certainly as I thought we were when I look back and see that score. We scored the ball and we had probably 32 to 34 minutes of really good offensive basketball. We scored 74 points. Arizona traditionally is a very good defensive team. This year I would say, relative to Arizona teams in the past, I think they’re a little bit better offensively this year.”

Arizona Wildcats at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Saturday, 6 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Fox Sports 1; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Arizona 13-5, 7-5 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 13-5, 7-4.

COACHES: Arizona — Sean Miller, 12th season (298-104, 418-152 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (223-139, 279-205 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Arizona — G James Akinjo, Jr., 14.6 ppg, 5.6 apg; F Azuolas Tubelis, Fr., 11.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg; G/F Bennedict Mathurin, Fr., 11.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg; Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 14.8 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, G-Sr., 11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: CU has had a week to work past last week’s bitter collapse against Utah. How the Buffs respond against Arizona, and again at home against Oregon State on Monday, could dictate the course of the stretch run.

NOTES: On Friday, it was announced that CU will participate in the 2021 Paradise Jam, set for Nov. 19-22 in the US Virgin Islands. Colorado State also will be in the eight-team field, as will Creighton, Duquesne, Brown, Bradley, Southern Illinois, and Northeastern…Arizona guard Kerr Kriisa, a freshman from Estonia, played his first game of the season during UA’s loss on Thursday at Utah after clearing an NCAA eligibility matter. Kriisa went 0-for-2 with two assists and a steal in 19 minutes…CU has won its past three home games against the Wildcats…Arizona shot just 37 percent and scored a season-low 58 points in Thursday’s loss at Utah…After a run of six double-digit scoring performances over nine games, CU senior D’Shawn Schwartz has reached double figures just once in the past five games…The Buffs’ homestand concludes Monday against Oregon State (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).