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Improved play by CU Buffs will be put to test at No. 6 Arizona

Buffs begin stretch of top 10 foes in three of four games

Dec. 18, 2021- University of Colorado ...
One of the more popular players in recent memory, CU Buffs forward Evan Battey will play his final home game at the CU Events Center. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

For this one, Tad Boyle didn’t have to dig deep to articulate the challenge facing Colorado.

The first few lines of the Buffaloes’ scouting report for their Thursday night visit to sixth-ranked Arizona might be stomach-churners for any coach.

Through Tuesday’s games, Arizona led the nation in scoring at 89.9 points per game. The Wildcats also ranked first nationally in assists per game (21.8), seventh in assist-to-turnover rate (1.62), 12th in field goal percentage (.498), fourth in defensive field goal percentage (.368), and sixth in average rebound margin (plus-10.6).

So other than the smooth offense, stingy defense, and strong work on the glass the Wildcats have displayed in their first season under former Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, there isn’t much more the Buffs have to brace for when they attempt to pull off an upset and record an elusive win at UA’s McKale Center.

“They’re scoring 90 points a game. They’re averaging 22 assists a game. Our high assist game this year has been 17. They average 22,” Boyle said. “They make scoring look easy. The pace of their offense is unbelievably quick. We’re trying to prepare our guys as best we can for what we’re going to see. Obviously their crowd is always great at McKale.”

For CU scholarship seniors Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet, Thursday’s game will be their final opportunity to do something no Buffs team has done since joining the Pac-12 — win in Tucson. Sabatino Chen’s waved-off buzzer-beater in 2013 notwithstanding, CU has gone 0-9 at Arizona since joining the league, including an 88-74 last year when, on paper, the Buffs seemingly boasted the team primed to end that streak.

Overall, CU is just 3-12 at Arizona, with all three victories occurring several generations ago. The Buffs’ last win in Tucson was on Dec. 20, 1965.

“It’s definitely my last opportunity (at Arizona),” Parquet said. “Especially with this team, to be able to go out there and compete against a good top-10 team. This is really big for me and this team. Just been trying to lock in at practice and hopefully that will translate. It’s a big opportunity for us.”

After suffering December losses against two ranked opponents in UCLA and Tennessee, Thursday’s game marks the start of a run in which the Buffs are scheduled to play the of the Pac-12’s three top-10 teams — No. 3 UCLA, No. 5 USC, and No. 6 Arizona — over the next four games in a span of 10 days.

Despite the COVID-sparked competitive lull between the second week of December and the start of last week’s home sweep against the Washington teams, Boyle expressed confidence his team improved while playing just one game in nearly four weeks. Just how much CU has improved will be revealed over the next two weekends.

“We’re coming along. We’re growing up incrementally,” Boyle said. “It’s not like a light bulb where you can switch it and everything is hunky-dory. It’s a process, and there’s bumps in the road in that process. And we’ve had a few of them obviously, with Tennessee and with UCLA and Southern Illinois back in November. We’ve even had some other games where we haven’t played well and won.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball at No. 6 Arizona Wildcats

TIPOFF: Thursday, 9 p.m. MT, McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 11-3, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference; Arizona 12-1, 2-0.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (244-146, 300-212 overall); Arizona — Tommy Lloyd, 1st season (12-1 at UA and overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 13.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .554 field goal percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg. Arizona — G Bennedict Mathurin, So., 18.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg; F Azuolas Tubelis, So., 14.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg; .575 field goal percentage; C Christian Koloko, Jr., 13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, .624 field goal percentage; G Kerr Kriisa, So., 12.5 ppg, 5.0 apg.

NOTES: The Pac-12 announced that CU’s makeup date at Oregon is scheduled for Jan. 25 (8 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network). It will be the third attempt at tipping off the Buffs-Ducks matchup (previously Dec. 30 and Jan. 3)…The gift card drive hosted by the CU basketball programs last weekend for victims of the Marshall Fire raised $18,315 in gift card donations, along with another $1,117 in cash donations. Through the remainder of the season, CU will continue to donate $5 for every basketball ticket purchased (men’s and women’s) to Marshall Fire relief efforts…Through Tuesday’s games, Arizona was at No. 2 in the NET Rankings, with the Buffs at No. 96…CU hasn’t defeated a ranked team in a true road games since a win at No. 19 Oregon on Feb. 7, 2013…In four previous games away from home, the Buffs have shot just .222 (14-for-63) on 3-pointers…CU is scheduled to complete the weekend in the desert at Arizona State on Saturday (8 p.m. MT, ESPN2). The fate of that game might still be up in the air, as the Sun Devils’ ongoing COVID issues forced the postponement of their Thursday home game against Utah. However, a good sign for Saturday’s date is that the Pac-12 announced on Wednesday the Utah at ASU game will be played on Monday afternoon.

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