The Colorado men’s basketball team has no choice but to focus on moving forward.
Yet the view ahead suddenly has become doubly daunting.
After a five-game winning streak came to a screeching halt during an ugly performance on Thursday night, the Buffs will be forced to try and get back on track against No. 2 Arizona on Saturday night in the regular season home finale at the CU Events Center.
It will be Senior Night for Benan Ersek, Will Loughlin, injured guard Elijah Parquet and, most prominently, standout forward Evan Battey. Barring a possible home date in the NIT, it will be Battey’s final home game, and it will occur against the highest-ranked foe to visit Boulder in 12 years.
“If we don’t play better than we did (against Arizona State), we’ve got three games left in our season,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Part of going to college is to learn. And there’s no teacher like experience. We experienced beating Oregon at Oregon. We also experienced Oregon coming back and beating us here. That should tell us that Arizona State could do the same thing.
“When we were on our road trip (last week), our practices were crisp, lively, energetic. The last two before Arizona State, they were not good. (Friday’s) was better, only because I felt like we had the film session and I was in their grill a little bit. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
CU will attempt to shake off Thursday’s home loss against Arizona State in which the Buffs, the Pac-12’s leading 3-point team in conference games, posted its lowest long-range shooting percentage (.259) since back-to-back .200 games in early December.
Defensively, CU allowed an ASU club ranked last in 3-point shooting in league games to go 9-for-17 from the arc. On the glass, the Sun Devils entered the game ranked 11th in Pac-12 games in average rebound margin but outrebounded CU 38-26.
With two games remaining in the regular season followed by the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, the Buffs likely are jockeying for a possible NIT bid, barring an unexpected run to the conference tourney championship. In CU’s corner is a previously displayed ability to shake off adversity, as the Buffs followed their previous low point — a 27-point loss at Washington State on Jan. 30 that capped a run of five losses in six games — by reeling off the five-game winning streak.
Arizona, however, poses a much more difficult challenge than the foes the Buffs rolled through during that streak. The Wildcats are angling for one of the top overall seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and they enter Saturday’s game leading the Pac-12 in conference games in scoring (82.3), field goal percentage (.489), defensive field goal percentage (.385), assists per game (19.9), and average rebound margin (plus-8.1).
“The kids are resilient and we’ve got good kids. I’m not worried about them long-term,” Boyle said. “The reality is, we’ve got Arizona. We could play great and get beat by 20. That’s the reality that we’re facing. I’m not saying that we will, I’m saying we have to play our A-plus game against Arizona to give ourselves a chance. The proof is in the pudding. They’ve lost two games all year long.”
No. 2 Arizona Wildcats at CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Saturday, 6 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Arizona 25-2, 15-1 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 18-10, 10-8.
COACHES: Arizona — Tommy Lloyd, 1st season (25-2 at UA and overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (251-153, 307-219 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Arizona — G Bennedict Mathurin, So., 17.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg; F Azuolas Tubelis, So., 15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, C Christian Koloko, Jr., 12.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, .613 field goal percentage; G Kerr Kriisa, So., 10.4 ppg, 5.0 apg; G Dalen Terry, So., 7.5 ppg, 4.1 apg. Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 11.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .508 3-point percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 10.9 ppg, 2.5 apg; F Tristan da Silva, So., 9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg.
NOTES: Arizona will clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season crown with a win. They will clinch the top spot outright with a win and a loss by No. 16 USC at Oregon on Saturday…The Wildcats have lost their past four games at CU and are just 2-6 in Boulder since the Buffs joined the Pac-12…The Buffs are 0-5 this season against ranked teams (Tennessee, USC, Arizona, UCLA twice)…Arizona topped CU 76-55 in Tucson on Jan. 13. The Buffs trailed by just four points at halftime but were outscored 44-27 after halftime. Arizona shot .509 overall, the highest mark by a CU foe this season…CU freshman KJ Simpson, formerly a Wildcats signee, paced the Buffs in that game with 17 points…The Wildcats began Friday leading the nation in assists per game (20.5) and ranked 11th nationally in assist-to-turnover rate (1.51)…UA’s Koloko ranks second in Pac-12 games in field goal percentage (.597) while Mathurin ranks second in scoring…Battey needs five rebounds to tie CU Hall of Famer Donnie Boyce and former teammate McKinley Wright IV for 20th all-time at CU…The Buffs complete the regular season on March 5 at Utah (7:30 p.m., ESPNU).