GAME NOTES: A pair of former conference foes collide in a Top 25 showdown on Saturday evening, as the seventh-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and 20th-ranked Colorado Buffaloes square off in the second game of a double-header at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Travis Ford's Cowboys are off to a strong start, with wins in 10 of their first 11 games of the season. Oklahoma State's lone loss came in a rematch with nationally-ranked Memphis as part of the Old Spice Classic on Dec. 1 (73-68), but the team has found its winning ways since, with three straight victories, including a 75-43 blasting of Delaware State last time out.
Tad Boyle's Buffaloes have been one of the surprise teams to begin the 2013-14 campaign. Colorado has also won 10 of its first 11 games. The team dropped the season-opener to a strong Baylor squad (72-60), but hasn't lost since, running their current win streak to 10 games with an 80-63 rout of Elon last week.
Prior to jumping ship to the Pac-12, Colorado was in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State. This marks the 109th all-time meeting between these two programs. The Cowboys have won 18 of the last 25 meetings to take a 60-48 series advantage. This marks the first time that both teams have been ranked when facing one another.
One of the country's top teams, Oklahoma State is led by one of the nation's premier players in sophomore star Marcus Smart. The 6-foot-4 playmaker does it all for OSU, leading the team in scoring (18.0 ppg), assists (3.8 apg) and steals (3.0 spg), while also doing some work on the boards (4.8 rpg). Fellow guard Markel Brown (15.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.1 apg) is another jack-of-all-trades. Junior forward Le'Bryan Nash adds frontcourt balance with 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Phil Forte rounds out the top scoring threats on the roster, coming off the bench to add 11.2 ppg. In all, the Cowboys are one of the top offensive teams in the nation, averaging a hefty 87.2 ppg, on a strong .495 shooting.
The Hornets were simply no match for Oklahoma State, especially in Stillwater, where the Cowboys put on a defensive clinic in the first half, taking a 30-16 lead into intermission, before cruising to a 32-point victory. Smart had one of his least productive games in recent memory, as he finished with just eight points and three assists in 27 minutes of work. Nash and Brown picked up the slack offensively, posting 14 points apiece for OSU, which made up for an 0- of-8 performance from 3-point range in the first half, with a 6-of-14 effort over the final 20 minutes to run away with the game.
The Buffaloes kept the Phoenix at arm's length for most of the game thanks to doubling up Elon on the boards, outrebounding the visiting team 54-27. Spencer Dinwiddie had a strong all-around game, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott owned the area down low, both finishing with double-doubles. Johnson posted 12 points and grabbed a game- high 15 rebounds, while Scott finished with 12 points and 13 boards. Freshman George King got into the act as well, posting 10 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes of work off the bench.
Colorado certainly possesses the personnel to hang with most teams at the offensive end of the floor this year. The Buffs are averaging 77.3 ppg and doing so on an adequate .456 shooting. The team's dominance on the glass has not been limited to just the Elon game, as CU holds an impressive +10.3 rebounding margin on the year. Dinwiddie is the straw that stirs the drink in Boulder, pacing Colorado in both scoring (15.5 ppg) and assists (4.0 apg). Scott (12.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Johnson (10.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) add frontcourt balance, while Askia Booker (11.5 ppg) gives the team another scorer in the backcourt.
Dinwiddie is good, but Smart is an elite player who is coming off a sub par performance. There isn't likely to be many of those games for the All- American the rest of the way. Expect Smart to make his presence felt early and often and be the deciding factor in this one.
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