LAS VEGAS – Two regular-season games were not enough for Colorado or Washington State to pinpoint a weakness in the other, or discern an advantage their team held to create separation from their opponent.
So, both teams are expecting a bareknuckle brouhaha in the third game of the series. Dating back to last season, the Cougars and Buffaloes have combined to play three overtimes in their last three contests.
“We match up with each other really well,” Ernie Kent said. “So I think it will be another of those knock-down, drag-out games.”
The Buffaloes won both regular-season meetings between the schools, so Wednesday’s 2:30 p.m. matchup between the schools is not a rubber match. But it certainly outweighs either regular-season game, maybe the two combined.
For the Cougars, this is their March Madness. WSU (9-21, 1-17) is looking for its first Pac-12 tournament win since 2009. With a win, the Cougars can avoid ending the season with a 17-game losing streak, and inject some energy in a program that has deflated considerably since its optimistic first year under Kent.
With a loss, the men’s basketball team finishes the season with the same number of wins as the football team.
While the Buffaloes would likely still make the NCAA tournament with a first-round loss to WSU, losing to the Cougars would inject some uncertainty into their Selection Sunday gathering. Regardless, CU is unlikely to receive a good seed, and every win in the Pac-12 yields a more favorable NCAA tournament matchup.
“We’ve got a lot more at stake tomorrow than Washington State does. There’s no doubt about it,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “But Washington State wants to win just as bad as we do. Washington State is so much better than their record indicates. They’ve got pretty good players and they’ve just come up on the short end of the stick sometimes.”
Both coaches are considering their teams to be zero-zero in the record book, although the tournament serves as more of a reset for WSU because the Cougars are treating it as a discrete, firm end to their season. It serves WSU well then that the team has not played since last Wednesday’s game at Washington, and Kent was able to give his players a few days off.
“(Our health) probably the best it’s been all year long, in terms of no ankle injuries, no cold bugs, nobody’s got a concussion and everybody seems to be in good spirits,” Kent said.
The coach added that he may not go as deeply into his bench during tournament games as he did during the regular season, while noting that Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford would both need to play extensively to neutralize the threat posed by the Buffs’ Josh Scott.
And if the Buffaloes are going to break open what has been a close series, Scott will likely be the reason why. The star CU center did not play during WSU’s double-overtime loss to the Buffaloes in Boulder, but is perhaps the Pac-12’s second most effective post player behind Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, the conference Player of the Year.
Scott averages 16.5 points and 8.7 points per game, and the Cougars must also look out for Georges King, the newly-crowned Most Improved Player in the Pac-12. King scored 21 points and had nine rebounds the last time the teams met.
But in the postseason, past performances may not matter. At least, that’s what the Cougars hope.
“Everybody’s the same; everybody’s needing wins,” Kent said. “So, with that all said, it’s good to put the season over here and come back and say, OK, we’re a veteran team now. We’ve been through a whole season. There’re no more new guys. Everybody should know what they’re capable of doing and hopefully rise up and play a different kind of game this time around.”
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