Buffs Aim To Bounce Back As Arizona Pays Visit Saturday
BOULDER — It has no doubt been a long week for the Colorado Buffaloes.
With a scheduled Thursday night game against Arizona State postponed, the Buffs have now had an entire week to first think about last Saturday's stunning loss to Utah, then put the game behind them.
Now, Tad Boyle's Buffs (13-5 overall, 7-4 Pac-12) will finally get that chance Saturday when they play host to Arizona (13-5, 7-5) in a 6 p.m. game at the CU Events Center (FS1).
The tendency, of course, is to put a "must win" tag on Saturday's game, especially in light of last week's end-of-game collapse against the Utes, when the Buffs let a 19-point lead melt away in the final eight minutes of the game.
But while the Buffs no doubt want to win — and need a win to stay firmly in position for a top-four Pac-12 finish — Boyle has stressed that there is no such thing as a make-or-break affair at this point of the season.
There is, after all, plenty of basketball yet to be played.
"We want to win, we want to get back on that track, we know how important it is," CU's coach said in a Friday afternoon press conference. "But it's not like if we don't win on Saturday, our season's over with, because it's not. That doesn't mean we don't want to win. Sometimes you can put too much pressure on yourself or your team. I want them to play with confidence, with a free spirit from the standpoint of 'I'm not afraid to make mistakes.'"
In a weird twist of the schedule, both teams are coming off losses to Utah. The Buffs dropped a 77-74 decision at home to Utah last Saturday while the Wildcats suffered a 73-58 loss in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
But the Buffs also know how good the Wildcats can be. In their first meeting this season, the Wildcats handed Colorado it's worst loss of the season, an 88-74 decision in Tucson in late December.
"Sean Miller is a helluva coach and they're going to be ready to go," Boyle said. "They have competitive young men in that program and it's going to be a different animal (Saturday) in Boulder than we saw in Salt Lake (Thursday)."
The Wildcats are also playing with a little different motivation. Because of an NCAA inquiry into alleged violations within the program, Arizona self-imposed a postseason ban this year. That means no Pac-12 tournament or NCAA Tournament.
Thus, as Boyle said, "This regular season is their season."
The Buffs' motivation, though, will simply be to get their season back on the right track. CU has split its last four games, with both losses coming in games the Buffs led at the half. While they put forth solid stretches in all four games, they also had significant stretches when either their offense went cold or their defense virtually disappeared.
The final eight minutes of the Utah game was a prime example. CU scored just seven points in the last seven minutes of the game while the Utes scored on 14 of their final 16 possessions.
"What it comes down to is finishing possessions," Boyle said. "Finishing possessions, whether it's offensively or defensively, and doing that more consistently. Basketball is a game of runs, a game of momentum. Every team in the country fights what we're fighting, We're not alone. It's just our droughts are a little bit longer it seems like."
The Wildcats are a young — two freshmen and one sophomore in the starting lineup — but talented team. Junior guard James Akinjo is averaging 14.6 points and 5.6 assists per game and Arizon leads the conference in scoring, averaging more than 77 points per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor. UA also leads the conference in 3-point shooting (.378) and has a hefty +8.5 rebound margin.
"I'm not putting too much on this one game, but it is an important game given that it is at home and we're playing a quality opponent," Boyle said. "For us to compete for a league championship or even an upper half finish, this is a critical game. From that standpoint, it's a big-time game."
NET RANKINGS: The Buffs are still the Pac-12's highest ranked team in the NCAA's NET rankings, checking in at No. 19, one spot behind USC. Other Pac-12 teams in the top 50 are UCLA (36) and Arizona (45).
WRIGHT UPDATE: Colorado senior point guard McKinley Wright IV is just 16 rebounds away from becoming the first player in Pac-12 history to score 1,600 points, collect 600 rebounds and hand out 600 assists. Wright currently stands at 1,637 points, 604 assists and 584 rebounds.
THE SERIES: Arizona holds a 21-14 all-time edge in the series, but the Buffs have a 10-3 edge in Boulder, including wins in the last three games at the Events Center.
BROADCAST: FS1 will televise the game with Jacob Tobey and Katy Winge. KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM will carry the radio broadcast with Mark Johnson and Scott Wilke.
NEXT UP: The Buffs return to action at home on Monday with a 5 p.m. game against Oregon State (Pac-12 Networks).