Cardinal in Boulder to Face Battered Buffs

For a Stanford team that may be hitting the wall, the Coors Event Center isn’t exactly a welcome sight.

These are the dog days of college basketball, when the games start to pile up, the bodies start to ache, and the adrenaline rush that the conference tournaments provide is still weeks away. This is the time of year when many teams hit the proverbial wall. Right now, Stanford appears to be one of those teams.

But there is no rest for the weary Cardinal. Nor is there much mercy from the schedule makers. Part two of the Cardinal’s Mountain swing commences on Sunday, as Stanford (16-8, 7-5 Pac-12; RPI #40) meets Colorado for a 1 p.m. Pacific tipoff.

The Cardinal want to avoid their fourth loss in the last five games, while the Buffaloes (11-12, 4-7; RPI #120) don’t want their current losing streak to reach four games.

Stanford is coming off a 75-59 loss at No. 11 Utah on Thursday night. The Cardinal were game early, but the Utes had too many weapons, turning a 27-27 tie in the first half into a 48-29 second-half lead that proved insurmountable. Anthony Brown led with 15 points, and Marcus Allen added 13. But without Rosco Allen (not on the trip and out indefinitely with a back injury), Stanford did not have the bodies necessary to compete at Utah for 40 minutes.

When asked by the Cardinal Sports Network for his thoughts on the Card’s psyche after the game, Johnny Dawkins replied, “that’s a tough loss, and they all know it. I want to make sure we pick our heads up and understand that we have to move on. We cannot be mired in the fact that this game was a tough loss for us.”

Chasson Randle has been mired in a slump. Since scoring 33 points in tour-de-force fashion against Washington State, Randle has made just ten of his last 36 shots from the floor (a 27.8% clip), and made just two of his last 19 three-pointers. And after dominating the Huskies in Seattle, Stefan Nastic has been somewhat quiet over the last four games.

While the Cardinal have begun to flatten out of late, the Buffaloes have clearly trended downward. Their 68-61 loss to California on Thursday night was their third straight defeat, their seventh in nine games, and their first time losing back-to-back home games in five years.

The last time Colorado won a game, it took triple overtime to beat USC. Senior guard Askia Booker dropped 43 points on the Trojans, and the Buffaloes got the 98-94 win on January 29. Since then, Colorado got boatraced in the second half at UCLA, fell victim to Utah in Salt Lake City, and didn’t have enough against Cal.

Injuries to major players have hurt the Buffs’ cause. Booker leads the team with 17.3 points per game, but has been battling two hip pointers. The Buffs’ inside presence wasn’t the same without junior forward Josh Scott, who missed seven games with a back injury. Scott returned to Colorado’s starting lineup on Thursday, responding with 17 points and eight rebounds.

Sophomore forward Wesley Gordon leads Colorado with 36 blocks, and Scott is right behind him with 31. Junior guard Xavier Johnson and freshman guard Dominique Collier form the rest of Colorado’s probable starters, with Collier coming off his first career start.

Still, Colorado has become a formidable Pac-12 program in just four years. They have been to the NCAA Tournament every year since joining the conference, won the Pac-12 Tournament their very first year in it, and have lost only 13 home games under head coach Tad Boyle. The Buffs’ Tournament streak may be in danger this season, but they are looking for fourth straight win over the Cardinal.

Michael Humphrey will try to prevent another Colorado victory over Stanford on Sunday. Humphrey replaced the injured Rosco Allen in the starting lineup, and was extremely active against the Utes, tipping in buckets and hustling for rebounds. Unfortunately, he also fell into his usual pattern of running into early foul trouble, and played just 19 minutes.

“He’s a freshman big man, and a lot of times they attract a lot of foul calls,” Dawkins explained on Thursday night. “He needs to be as disciplined as possible. He needs to learn how to play defense with angles, and understand where he needs to be to keep himself out of those positions. He’s going to be a terrific defender as he gets older, but right now it’s all new to him. He’s learning on the job.”

Humphrey’s battle against the whistles may be a critical key against Colorado, especially considering Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon’s skills down low. And, of course, with Stanford playing at altitude, the Cardinal will need all hands on deck against the Buffs.

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