Colorado opens Pac-12 play with battle-tested Cougars

NCAA Men's Basketball

The Washington State has proven its mettle early this season with three close games and three victories.

The Cougars (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will put that experience to the test when they face Colorado in Boulder on Saturday.

Washington State was 3-11 when trailing at the half a year ago, but needed just three games to match that win total this season. The key, coach Kyle Smith said after Wednesday’s 59-55 win over Oregon State, has been the defense.

“That’s three in a row where we’ve just been in tough, tight games and just kind of found a way to win,” Smith said. “Our defense is our calling card right now. We’re still getting comfortable with each other.”

Isaac Bonton has taken the lead offensively. The senior guard is averaging 18 points a game and had 15 in the win over the Beavers. The Cougars had four players score in double figures, including a career-high 13 points off the bench from DJ Rodman.

Washington State will face a Colorado team that hasn’t played in eight days because of COVID-19 concerns. The Buffaloes had their Pac-12 opener at Arizona, scheduled for Wednesday, postponed because they didn’t have the minimum number of scholarship players available.

Colorado (2-0, 0-0) announced Thursday it was resuming basketball operations.

The Buffaloes have been dealing with coronavirus issues since the start of the season. Senior D’Shawn Schwartz missed the first two games after testing positive for the virus before the opener against South Dakota. Colorado won that game and beat Kansas State, the host of the Little Apple Classic, but hasn’t played since Nov. 28.

Colorado was without Keeshawn Barthelemy and Tristan da Silva against Kansas State due to contact tracing protocols from Schwartz’s positive test. A second unnamed player tested positive earlier this week.

McKinley Wright IV picked up the slack in both wins, scoring 20 against the Coyotes and 24 against the Wildcats. Wright was named the Pac-12 player of the week for his performance in the Little Apple Classic, while guard Eli Parquet has seen his role increase with players not being available.

“I’m ready for it and I put in a lot of work in the offseason on ball-handling because I knew at some point I’d be in that position,” Parquet said. “Especially now that Keeshawn is out, because he was the backup point guard to McKinley. I have to step up and take that role on.”

–Field Level Media

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