Washington's 85-77 win over the Oregon Ducks was somewhat lost in the hysteria surrounding Seattle's NFC Championship. Trailing 42-32 at the half, the Huskies put together a +18 margin in the second half to secure a potentially season-saving victory.
Sure, the four-game losing streak was snapped a game earlier against Oregon State, but given the 0-3 start to conference play (including the loss to WSU to open the homestand), beating both OSU and Oregon will likely prove essential to climbing back over .500 in the Pac-12.
A team that appeared to have entered total free fall has now steadied the ship and overcome the loss of Jernard Jarreau without missing a beat.
Now on to the next step: winning a conference game on the road.
Probable Starters: G Askia Booker (Sr., 6-2, 180), G Jaron Hopkins (So., 6-6, 200), G Dustin Thomas (So., 6-7, 225), F Tre'Shaun Fletcher (So., 6-7, 210), F Wesley Gordon (So., 6-9, 240).
Key Bench Players: G Xavier Talton (Jr., 6-2, 185), G Dominique Collier (Fr., 6-2, 170), F Tory Miller (Fr., 6-9, 240).
Coach Romar has been forced to stick to a seven-man rotation in response to the knee injury to Jarreau and the short-term absence of Darin Johnson (who may return for this game). Still, in comparison to Colorado, Washington has been positively fortunate.
Two of Coach Boyle's key starters, G Xavier Johnson (Jr., 6-7, 230) and F Josh Scott (Jr., 6-10, 245), have struggled with injuries and will not play on Thursday.
Scott should be close to healthy after missing several games to back spasms, but it has been announced that even if he is available, he will miss the contest to serve a one-game suspension.
Scott (13.8ppg) and Johnson (12.8) rank 2nd and 3rd on the team in scoring; Scott also leads the team in rebounding (7.2).
Without them, it's basically the Askia Booker show, and it has not gone particularly well as of late. Colorado has lost three in a row, including losses to Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State.
Both Scott and Johnson missed the Arizona and ASU games. In those two games, Booker averaged over 30 minutes. In the 68-54 loss to the Wildcats, he scored 30 points on 11-17 shooting. In the 78-72 loss to ASU, he managed 21 points on 9-22 shooting.
Overall, Booker averages 16.7 points (42%, 41%), 3.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.3 steals, so we are clearly seeing a step up from his usual production.
Jaron Hopkins, normally a solid role player on a team with three clear-cut offensive producers, is now arguably the second option on offense. He is having a very efficient year, averaging 7.4 points (52%, 37%), 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 23 minutes.
Dustin Thomas and Tre'Shaun Fletcher have been forced into starting roles. Both players were already playing significant minutes off the bench.
Of the two, Fletcher has made more of the opportunity. After shooting from three-point range sparingly earlier in the year, Fletcher is 5-7 from deep over the last three contests. Against ASU he scored 10 points on 3-5 shooting along with 3 rebounds.
Thomas has only contributed 7 points in the past three games despite playing around 20 minutes per game, but he has averaged 3 rebounds and 3 assists over that same span.
Wesley Gordon is the lone member of the front court that is actually supposed to be starting. He is now Colorado's primary rebounder (7.0) and shot blocker (1.5). Gordon is also responsible for handling Robert Upshaw, and with depth such a huge issue, he will need to be careful not to rack up early fouls against the free throw-challenged big man.
Tory Miller is basically the only forward available on the bench, so expect to see him for 10-20 minutes depending on the foul situation. Collier and Talton will help spell the guards, but both have struggled to provide much offensive assistance in the last two or three games.
Colorado is riding a three-game losing streak, but all three were part of a single road trip, and two of the opponents were ranked in the top ten.
The Buffaloes are a very different team at home, where they are 9-2 this year, while the Huskies are 1-2 in true road games. That lone win came at Key Arena against Seattle U, in what was far more of a neutral court affair.
It's questionable to compare Washington's three straight home games to Colorado's three straight road losses when Thursday's contest will be played in Boulder. Not when both teams have failed to record a single quality win on the road while playing very well at home.
For that reason, I'm not particularly confident in picking this one.
Washington's zone defense has been much improved in the past week, but it seems that at any point this team is liable to return to old apathetic habits. The zone grows sluggish, opponents shots start falling, and Husky turnovers start to come in bunches on the other end as the guards force the action.
As long as the Huskies can continue to consistently play a swarming zone while managing to avoid foul trouble for Kemp and Upshaw (No more Gilles!), I think Colorado's injury woes more than cancel out any home court advantage.
Booker will do his best to carry the team, but short of an epic performance I think Washington will survive and move on to face Utah with a 3-3 Pac-12 record.
Washington 73, Colorado 65