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Boyle's Buffs Open Pac-12 Play With Tough Three-Game Road Trip

Dec 26, 2020
Jeriah Horne's 12-for-12 shooting from the FT line has helped CU lead the nation in FT percentage.

Colorado Game Notes | Arizona Game Notes

BOULDER — The Colorado Buffaloes' schedule takes a hard left turn into serious territory beginning this week.

After wrapping up an abbreviated non-conference slate last week, the 6-1 Buffs will open Pac-12 play with three games in six days — all on the road —  beginning with a 7:30 p.m. game Monday at Arizona (Pac-12 Network). That will be followed by a weekend trip to Los Angeles that will see CU play at USC on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2) before a Saturday contest at UCLA (6 p.m., Pac-12).

If that's not a difficult enough start to the league season, the Buffs will get no break when they finally open the home portion of their schedule. First on the list is a Jan. 7 meeting with 25th-ranked Oregon (9 p.m., FS1), the only Pac-12 team to be included in the most-recent Associated Press top 25.

But the Buffs shouldn't be lacking any confidence heading into the brutal road swing, as they played well in their non-conference games. Colorado wrapped up its preseason schedule last Tuesday with a 74-64 win over Grand Canyon in their second game of the Far West Classic in Las Vegas. The victory came on the heels of perhaps one of their most impressive performances of the year, a 92-69 throttling of Washington in the Far West opener.

Still, there's no doubt CU coach Tad Boyle would have liked more than seven games to prepare for a 20-game conference slate, particularly one that opens with three on the road against teams picked in the preseason poll to finish ahead of Colorado in the league standings.

Throw Oregon into the mix, and it is four picked to finish better than the Buffs. UCLA was picked by the media to win the league, with Oregon third, Arizona fifth and USC sixth — all ahead of Colorado's seventh-place prognostication.

But while the upcoming road trip is no doubt a daunting one, it might not be as daunting as it would be in normal circumstances. Thanks to conference regulations that do not allow fans to attend during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Buffs won't see the regular sold-out, raucous crowd that always comes with a trip to Arizona's McKale Center. Neither will there be a crowd advantage for the home teams at USC and UCLA.

That's something that should help blunt the normal edge that comes with a home court advantage.

Of course, the same can be said for the Buffs' home floor edge, one that has been a nice boost for Colorado in the Boyle era, particularly against big-name opponents. There might be no better example than the Ducks, who are 0-9 all-time in Boulder, including an 0-7 mark in Pac-12 play.

One more factor in the Buffs' favor on the upcoming road trip is that they have become accustomed to playing away from home this year. Five of Colorado's seven games thus far have been either on opponents' home floors or neutral courts.

A quick look at the week ahead:

WHAT'S AT STAKE:  The Arizona game is a makeup contest for a game originally scheduled for early December, when CU had two Pac-12 games postponed because of Covid-19 issues. Now, the rescheduled UA game means three road contests in six days —  a brutal way to start conference play.

Still, the Buffs have to play the hand they've been dealt. That means figuring out a way to get a win or two out of the first three. If they can do that, they'll return to Boulder for a four-game homestand and a chance at some great momentum for what they hope will be a run at the Pac-12 title.

NATIONAL LEADERS: Heading into the weekend, Colorado was the nation's best-shooting free throw team, hitting 85.8 percent of its shots from the charity stripe.

"That's free money," said CU center Dallas Walton. "You have to pick it up when it's there."

Walton is certainly doing his part in that regard, hitting .889 percent of his charity shots thus far (24-for-27). But he's far from the only Buff hitting from the line consistently. Three are still perfect this year —  forward Jeriah Horne is 12-for-12 and guards Eli Parquet and Keeshawn Barthelemy are each 6-for-6. CU senior guard McKinley Wright IV is 16-for-20, freshman Jabari Walker is 17-for-19 and junior Evan Battey is 22-for-28.

Also in the national statistics, CU is 13th in scoring defense (allowing 57.4 per game), 24th in the nation in scoring margin (plus-20.4 per game) and 35th in field goal percentage defense.

SCOUTING REPORTS: 

ARIZONA (6-1 overall, 0-1 Pac-12): Truth is, Boyle and the Buffs would have probably much rather played the game when originally scheduled. This is a relatively inexperienced Arizona team that lost three players in the NBA Draft, including two first rounders, and has been slow to round into shape. 

The Wildcats' only loss thus far is a 78-75 defeat at the hands of Stanford on a neutral floor that ended UA's 20-game win streak over the Cardinal. But Arizona also struggled to collect home wins over Eastern Washington (70-67) and Montana (70-64), programs the Wildcats would normally steamroll in the preseason.

But, as Boyle noted, Sean Miller's teams almost always improve as the season progresses, and it's not as if the Wildcats are bereft of talent. Junior guard Jemari Baker, a transfer from Kentucky, has stepped into a starting role and is averaging 15.4 points per game while fellow guard James Akinjo (a transfer from Georgetown) is averaging 13.4 points and just under five assists per game.

The Buffs lost at Arizona, 75-54, in their only meeting last season,

USC (4-1 overall, 0-0 Pac-12): The Trojans haven't played since Dec. 8, as they have had their last four games either postponed or canceled due to Covid-19 issues (two of the four were Pac-12 contests).

They should get one more warmup before they host the Buffs, as they are scheduled to host Santa Clara on Tuesday.

This is another program that lost some talent to the draft and/or graduation, including a first-round pick. But Andy Enfield's roster still has plenty of talent, beginning with the Mobley brothers, Evan and Isaiah.

Evan, a 7-foot, 215-pound freshman, leads the team in scoring (17.6 ppg), rebounding (9.0 rpg) and blocked shots (3 bpg). Isaiah, a 6-10, 235-pound sophomore, is averaging 9.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Trojans also have a quality backcourt, led by grad transfer Tahj Eaddy, who is averaging 11.0 points and also leads the team in assists at just under three per game.

Colorado swept USC last year, getting a 78-57 win in LA, then holding on for a 70-66 victory in Boulder.

UCLA (5-2 overall, 1-0 Pac 12; receiving votes in AP and coaches poll): Picked to win the Pac-12 by the media in the preseason poll, Mick Cronin's Bruins struggled early. They were smacked by San Diego State, 73-58, in the season opener, and struggled past Pepperdine, needing three overtimes. But their only other loss thus far was a respectable 77-70 defeat at the hands of No. 20 Ohio State, and their wins include Cal and San Diego.

Cronin has quickly turned what was seen as a soft program under the previous regime into a tough-minded, hard-nosed bunch. The Bruins are led by sophomore wing Jaime Jaquez, who is averaging 13.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, with 6-9 guard Chris Smith averaging a team-leading 6.7 rebounds along with 12.1 points. CU fans will remember Smith for his career-high 30 point effort in a win over Colorado in Loss Angeles last season. Point guard Tyger Campbell, meanwhile, is averaging nearly seven assists per game along with 11.1 points.

Defensively, the Bruins are holding opponents to less than 68 points per game while boasting a 3-point defense that is limiting the opponent to just .287 shooting from long range.

While the Buffs don't need any extra motivation for the game, they will no doubt remember last season's Bruins sweep, which came on the heels of Colorado sweeping UCLA in each of the previous two seasons.

But what stands out most about last season's series is UCLA's 70-63 victory in Boulder. The Buffs — ranked No. 18 at the time — held a nine-point lead over the Bruins with less than 13 minutes to play, but couldn't protect the lead down the stretch and lost.

The Buffs didn't win again the rest of the season, as the loss marked the beginning of a five-game losing streak down the stretch of the season — a streak that stuck with Colorado the entire offseason after the NCAA Tournament was canceled.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu