Eastern Washington a tough matchup for CU Buffs men’s basketball in need of turnaround

Eagles already have defeated Pac-12 team on the road

University of Colorado Boulder’s  Keeshawn Barthelemy drives past  Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler on December 4, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder’s Keeshawn Barthelemy drives past Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler on December 4, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The message from head coach Tad Boyle this week was simple.

If the Buffaloes aren’t ready to play, if they choose to play to their potential during only select stretches of the 40-minute game, the recent disappointment will continue.

Following consecutive losses against top-15 foes that showed the Buffs aren’t yet ready to challenge the best basketball teams in the nation, CU looks to get back on track Wednesday night at home against Eastern Washington.

In many seasons, this is the sort of matchup that might allow the Buffs to iron out some kinks ahead of a Dec. 21 home date against No. 8 Kansas and the resumption of Pac-12 Conference play that follows. But this isn’t most seasons. Eastern Washington is a Big Sky Conference foe that reached the NCAA Tournament last season and already has a Pac-12 road win to its credit, topping Washington State on Nov. 27.

“Really good program. Really good players. They went into Washington State — and Washington State’s good this year, they’re not the Washington State of old — and they beat them convincingly,” Boyle said. “Washington State was up 13-2 on them out of the gate. So if we’re not ready to play, we’ll get beat. Bottom line. Simple as that. If we’re not ready to play, we’ll get beat.”

Those top-15 losses — first at then-No. 5 UCLA, and then at home against No. 13 Tennessee — revealed a Buffs team that was unable to really execute at either end of the floor at a level commensurate with the level of competition.

The Bruins and Tennessee shot a combined .471 from the floor. The backcourt stars for both teams seemingly scored at will, with UCLA’s Tyger Campbell going 4-for-7 from 3-point range during a 21-point night before Tennessee star freshman put up 27 points on the Buffs on a 13-for-20 afternoon (12-for-14 on 2-pointers).

For a Buffs team hoping to at least be in the NCAA Tournament conversation in February, it was a jarring early-December reality check. If there’s a bright side, it’s still early December, with plenty of time for the Buffs to put those tough lessons into practice.

“We all know what happened. We lost to two really good teams. I think we understand that,” CU sophomore forward Jabari Walker said. “It’s not like we lost to just anybody. We’re definitely keeping our heads up and getting on to the next.

“(Eastern Washington) is a good team. They made it to the tournament. They’ve got some guys that want to be Pac-12 players, so they’re going to go at us. They want to prove they’re better than Pac-12 teams. They’ll have a chip on their shoulders, and we’ve got to have a chip on our shoulders.”

At a pair of intense practices the past two days, Boyle repeated the theme he spouted after the loss against Tennessee, admitting the Buffs are merely an average basketball team at this juncture. He also recently discussed his team’s need to learn from losses. If the Buffs can do just that, the Eastern Washington battle marks the first of three consecutive mid-major foes before the schedule ramps up again on Dec. 21 against the Jayhawks.

“I believe our guys think they’re better than they are. And that’s not a lack of confidence. It’s a lack of reality,” Boyle said. “We’re an ordinary, average team. And the reason we’re ordinary and average is that we’re not consistent. Good teams are not inconsistent. By definition, you can’t be good and be inconsistent. Good players are not inconsistent. Especially with their effort, their toughness, with their rebounding, with their grit on defense. We’re an inconsistent team.

“I’m not saying we can’t be good. We can be. We’re a dangerous team. We’re not a good team.”

Eastern Washington Eagles at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 6 p.m., CU Events Center

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Eastern Washington 4-4; Colorado 6-3.

COACHES: Eastern Washington— David Riley, 1st season (4-4 at Eastern Washington and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (239-146, 295-212 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Eastern Washington — G/F Steele Venters, R-Fr., 19.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .523 3-point percentage; G Rylan Bergersen, Sr., 13.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, .567 field goal percentage; F Ethan Price, Fr., 10.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg. Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 13.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .566 field goal percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 12.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.8 apg.

NOTES: EWU is in its first season under Riley as its head coach. Former head coach Shantay Legans left the program for the University of Portland after leading the Eagles to a Big Sky Conference tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament…Riley spent 10 previous seasons at EWU as either an assistant or staff member. He is the nephew of Mike Riley, formerly the head football coach at Nebraska, Oregon State, and the San Diego Chargers…CU is 3-0 all-time against EWU, winning the most recent matchup 76-68 on Dec. 22, 2016 in Boulder…CU will host a children’s toy drive in conjunction with Wednesday’s game as well as Friday’s game against Milwaukee (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). The CU football equipment truck will be parked outside the main entrance to the Events Center along Regent drive and will accept donations from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and 8 a.m. until the 7:30 tipoff on Friday. Fans also can deliver toys on Thursday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Donations will benefit the Broomfield-based charity A Precious Child.