Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7.30 pm this evening. Fox Sports 1, who are broadcasting four of the next seven CU games, has the live coverage. Mark Johnson and the radio call are on 850 KOA, as always.
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When last we met -
Last February against Washington, CU took leads of 10-0 and 20-4 in the opening minutes. From those lefty heights, they rarely looked back en route to a 91-65 *ahem* rout of the visiting Huskies. Despite losing starting forward Wes Gordon the morning of the game, the Buffs had no trouble defending their home court. From wire-to-wire, Colorado wasn't just the better team, they were the dominant team.
|CU swarmed Washington from the tip. They never had a chance. From: the BDC|
The Buffs were lead by the high-flying trio of Askia Booker, Josh Scott, and Xavier Johnson. All three scored over 20 points in the blowout, and, combined, the veteran core went for 68 points, 23 rebounds, and 12 assists.
|Johnson was about as good as I've seen. To bad he can't go for a repeat performance. From: the BDC|
Continuing the unguardable/sardonic trend, the Huskies had absolutely no answer for Josh Scott. Poor Perris Blackwell was tabbed with guarding the lanky Colorado Springs native, but simply wasn't up to the task. Scott was too quick, too agile for the UW forward, and easily put up 21/8/3/3. Unfortunately, Washington has since shored up their glaring weakness in the paint, and Scott is still hobbled by his weakened back. So much for any carryover advantage here.
|Josh Scott had a field day against the undersized Huskies. From: the BDC|
Look, any team is going to look good when the shots are falling, but this was a step beyond a merely strong night of basketball. After a month of questions initiated by a blow-out loss to these very Huskies, to get the emphatic closure of a 26-point victory was cathartic. The team enjoyed it, the fans enjoyed it, and all was well.
|The Huskies left bloodied and bruised for their troubles. Payback for the previous month in Seattle. From: the BDC|
The Huskies in 2014-15 -
One thing that defined UW last season was their absolute dearth of an effective post presence. The 6-9 Perris Blackwell was often left alone inside, and skilled post men would just as often rip them apart because of it. Opponents would score nearly 60% of their points against them from inside the arc last season; it was often painful to watch. Not so much this campaign, as a pair of massive post players are having their way in the paint (UW is now 22nd in effective height). Particularly on defense, it's no longer easy pickings against this bunch in the front court.
The key has been their ability to defend the rim. 8th overall in block rate (about seven per game), 5th in two-point shot percentage defense, Washington has turned into master defenders of the lane. Only 25% of all attempts allowed are at the rim, as teams are starting to shy away from attacking the stalwart Husky front line. It doesn't get much better farther out, as they're 6th in the country defending mid-range jumpers. All told, they're posting a defensive eFG under 41%. It helps that they've been playing a lot of zone. Keeping their defensive giants at home keeps dangerous penetrations (and fouls) down, while forcing awkward shots.
|UW has completely turned around what was once a dramatic disadvantage in the paint.|
This interior advantage has paid dividends for the Huskies, allowing them to jump out on a 11-0 run to start the year. Big wins over UTEP, San Diego State (avert your eyes), and Oklahoma had them in the top-15 back in late September. A recent run of four straight losses, however, including head-scratching home losses to Stony Brook and Washington State created some doubt. The skid was built around abysmal shooting from behind the arc (low 20%). That seems to have been righted recently, though, as they swept the Oregon schools last week. Outside shooting returned to form, and the wins followed.
|If it's hard to get to the rim, it's hard to win.|
Star Players -
What has separated this UW squad from the inconsistent groups of the past three years has been the mammoth presence of sophomore center Robert Upshaw. Dedicated BasketBuffs will remember the 7-0, 250 lb draft horse from his freshman year at Fresno State, when he gummed up the works throughout CU's 50-43 win over the Bulldogs in late 2012. Let me tell you, though - he's only gotten better since then. Way better.
|Big Robert has been erasing a prodigious number of shots.|
Simply, Upshaw's the best shot blocker in the country. #1 with a bullet. He's averaging four and a half per game, and is sending back almost 18% of all opportunities. It helps that he has great size, but Robert is also really smart in the way he attacks the ball. A testament to his skill, despite all those blocks, he's only averaging about 3.4 fouls called per 40 minutes played. He picks his spots perfectly. Offensively, he's still coming around, and hack-a-UpShaq is in play with his 42% shooting from the line, but his primary value is in his protection of the rim. CU had already been deferring outside the last few games without Johnson or Scott, I would be shocked if they got anything in the paint this evening (even though Booker has stated a willingness to 'damn the torpedoes').
|Upshaw combines well with the son of the Reign Man|
With the ball, the Huskies are defined by the backcourt tandem of Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews. NWG, the sophomore point guard, handles the ball most of the time, and has the 11th-best assist rate in the country. Averaging nearly seven per game, he does a great job finding teammates in space, and creating off the dribble for both himself and others. I don't expect to see him back for his junior year Andrews, still around for his third season, is the volume shooter responsible for keeping defenders honest. He's taken 84 jumpers from behind the arc, and could make the Buffs pay for collapsing on the paint threats.
|Williams-Goss may be the best point guard in the Pac-12|
Off the bench, one player to keep an eye on is 6-7 freshman forward Donaven Dorsey. A Sea-Tac-area product, Dorsey is starting to come into his own as a deadly corner three artist.
One of the most revered stars of his profession, Lorenzo Romar is rolling through his 13th season on the bench in Seattle (19th overall). A Pacific Northwest institution, Coach Romar has been struggling in recent years to keep up with the rest of the Pac-12. They won the league back in 2012, but failed to make it to the Tournament, and haven't been back since, missing the post season entirely last spring. Inconsistent play and near-misses on the recruiting trail have been the culprit, and some were starting to question whether the UW lifer still had it in him to build a winner.
|Coach Romar would like a word with his doubters|
(My record on the season: 4-3. Against the spread: 4-3. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.7 pts/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 8pm - CU -1
I don't really know. Playing at home is a massive advantage, but the combination of CU losses to the bench monster and UW's ferocious talent in the paint have me wary. XJ would've been key stretching Shawn Kemp, Jr. outside of his comfort zone, and Jelly would've been huge in battling Upshaw. Without either, I see the Huskies owning the post, and punishing the Buffs for it.
A little #TadBall should keep it close and UGLY, but I'm expecting a Colorado loss.
UW 62 - CU 58
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE HUSKIES!