Buffs Host ASU To Wrap Up Regular Season
BOULDER — With one regular season game remaining before the Pac-12 tournament and an expected NCAA Tournament berth, the Colorado Buffaloes' goal is simple.
Finish the regular season on a high note, then take that momentum into the conference tournament and postseason.
Tad Boyle's 24th-ranked Buffaloes (19-7 overall, 13-6 Pac-12) will have that opportunity Thursday when they play host to Arizona State (10-11, 7-8) in a 7 p.m. game at the CU Events Center (ESPN2).
"Finish has been a common theme for this team this year," Boyle said Wednesday. "Whether it's finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, finishing offensive possessions at the rim, putting the ball in the hole, getting to the free throw line, finishing games — now we have to finish our regular season."
The Buffs have already clinched at least the fourth seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament, their highest seed in the Pac-12 era, and a victory would bump them up to the No. 3 seed. But a win may be more important simply to keep the momentum they have built with three straight victories, including wins last week over USC and UCLA.
The Sun Devils post an interesting challenge. Picked to finish second in the Pac-12 preseason media poll — barely behind UCLA — and ranked 18th in the preseason AP poll, the Sun Devils have struggled for much of the season. Plagued by inconsistency but boasting a talented lineup, they may have finally found a groove over the last 10 days, compiling a three-game win streak — their longest of the season.
"Arizona State's very explosive, they're very talented," Boyle said. "They're a dangerous, dangerous basketball team."
Bobby Hurley's Sun Devils are led by senior point guard Remy Martin, who leads the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging 21.3 points per game. He is also fourth in the league in 3-pointers per game (2.2), and has averaged 25.4 points over the last 10 games.
"He's going to get some," Boyle said of the Buffs' strategy. "You're not going to shut Remy Martin out. We just have to do a good job of making him work for everything. It's a team defensive effort against a guy like that. It's not just a one-guy (job)."
But the Sun Devils are more than just Martin. Guard Alonze Verge, last year's Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year, has stepped into a starting role and is averaging 12.9 points and 4.1 assists. Forwards Kimani Lawrence and Jalen Graham, meanwhile, are both averaging more than eight rebounds per game.
The Buffs are coming off a pair of wins in which their offense lit up the board in one (80-62 over USC) and their defense made the difference in another (70-61 over UCLA).
The common thread, Boyle said, was an energy level that will produce success in March if the Buffs can sustain it.
"We had great energy in both those games," Boyle said. "We were dialed into the defensive scouting report and we played with great energy. That has to continue for us to have success in March."
BUFFS BITS: Senior point guard McKinley Wright IV leads CU in scoring (15.0 ppg), assists (5.8 apg) and steals (1.1 spg) and this week picked up his fourth Pac-12 Player of the Week honor of the season after averaging 20.5 points, 10.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in wins over USC and UCLA … Graduate transfer Jeriah Horne leads Colorado in rebounding at 5.7 per game while ranking second in scoring at 11.5 per contest and third in steals (16). He leads the team in 3-pointers with 46 and has the top 3-point percentage among those Buffs attempting at least two per game (.451) … Junior forward Evan Battey is seventh in the Pac-12 in free throw shooting (.838), 15th in offensive rebounds (1.7 orpg) and 16th in overall rebounding. He has made 40 of his last 46 (.870) from the line and 79 of his last 91 (.868).
LEADING NUMBERS: Colorado leads the nation in free throw shooting at 83.1 percent, making 364 of 438 attempts. Colorado has shot 80 percent or better in 18 games and at least 90 percent in five. The Buffaloes, who have made at least 10 free throws in 23 of 26 games, have 19 contests where they've missed three or fewer and 10 with just one or two misses. Colorado leads the Pac-12 by a wide margin in free throw shooting with second place Utah shooting 77.9 percent.
Along with owning the Pac-12's top spot in free throw percentage, the Buffaloes top the conference in scoring defense (63.0 ppg) and scoring margin (+10.6). Colorado has held its opponents under 70 points in four straight, six of the last seven and eight of the last 11 contests.
20 WINS: A win against Arizona State would give Colorado its 12th 20-win season in program history and the eighth under head coach Tad Boyle, including the last three. It would be the seventh time the Buffaloes have recorded 20 wins during the regular season (1968-69, '96-97, 2012-13, '13-14, '15-16, '19-20). Last year's squad tied the school mark for regular season wins at 21, eventually tying for the seventh best overall mark in team history.
A victory Thursday would also be CU's 14th conference win of the season, which would be the most in Buffs history.
And, a victory would guarantee that CU cannot lose 10 or more games in a season for the first time since '68-69, when the Buffs were 21-7.
THE SERIES: Thursday's game will be the only regular season meeting this year between the two teams, as it has been more than a year since they last played, when Colorado claimed a 68-61 win on the Sun Devils' home floor in mid-January 2020.
Colorado leads the all-time series, 12-9, including an 8-1 record in Boulder.
BROADCAST: The game will be televised by ESPN2 with David Feldman and Corey Williams. KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM will carry the radio broadcast with Voice of the Buffs Mark Johnson and Scott Wilke.