Cougars look to rebound against Colorado

WSU is coming off four straight losses from Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

After a gut-wrenching loss to Utah on Thursday, WSU will host the Colorado Buffaloes for their second straight home game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Beasley Coliseum.

WSU (9-5, 2-5) would’ve already played Colorado (11-4, 5-3) this season back in early December 2020. However, COVID issues on the Cougars’ end prevented that game from taking place.

This home contest against the Buffaloes is not a rescheduled game due to the cancellation; this game was initially scheduled before the season started. The canceled game is rescheduled for the Wednesday following this game.

WSU head coach Kyle Smith said playing an opponent in back-to-back games feels somewhat reminiscent of his time in the West Coast Conference, but whether this gives WSU or Colorado an advantage or disadvantage is unknown.

“We haven’t seen them in a while,” Smith said. “To put it bluntly, I have no idea.”

WSU’s last matchup against Colorado was back in the first round of the 2019 Pac-12 Tournament. WSU achieved its first conference tournament win in over a decade against the Buffaloes last season. The tournament was of course cut short because of the emerging coronavirus pandemic at the time.

But the Buffaloes have not digressed much this season. After 15 games, Colorado is just one win behind their win totals at this time last year. They currently rank fourth in this season’s conference standings.

Colorado’s leading scorer and playmaker is none other than senior guard McKinley Wright IV. Wright averages 14.9 points and 5.8 assists per game, making him one of the deadliest combo guard threats in the conference.

Wright had a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in the Buffaloes’ lone regular-season matchup against WSU – which also resulted in a Colorado win. The two schools played in the first round of the 2020 Pac-12 Tournament last season, where WSU prevailed, but Wright put up 21 points in the loss.

Smith said Wright’s performance this season puts him on track to becoming an NBA point guard. Everyone plays better when you have as experienced a point guard as Wright, Smith added.

“He can really carry you a long way,” Smith said. “You watch him play and his confidence, his determination, his leadership, I think those all bode well for him.”

Colorado comes off an 84-80 loss to the University of Washington Huskies on Wednesday. The Buffaloes shot a measly six percent from the three-point line off 18 attempts but still managed to keep it close with the Huskies.

Aside from the upset loss to the Huskies on Wednesday, the Buffaloes do a lot of things right. In fact, Colorado does one thing well that WSU has struggled with all season, free-throw shooting. The Buffaloes are first in the nation in free-throw shooting percentage with an astounding 84.2 percent as a team.

The Cougars don’t commit too many fouls as a team per game, but the stat is still something to recognize since the Buffaloes take full advantage of their trips to the foul line.

Colorado junior forward Evan Battey is also a notable returner for this 2020-21 roster as he put up a double-double with points and rebounds in the lone regular-season matchup between WSU and Colorado last year.

Since Battey’s scoring numbers have increased this season and the Cougars are somewhat susceptible to allowing big men to score down low, Battey is likely to have a considerable impact on Saturday’s game.

Tip-off will be at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Beasley Coliseum. This is will be WSU’s last home game for 20 days. Fans won’t be allowed to attend, but the game will air on ESPN2.