McClain re­turns to CU with UIC

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Pat Rooney

BOUL­DER » In the spring of 2010, fol­low­ing a three-year stint as an as­sis­tant at Colorado un­der head coach Jeff Bzde­lik, Steve McClain was one of the fi­nal­ists to take over the CU men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram when Bzde­lik left for Wake For­est.

In­stead, for­mer Buf­faloes ath­letic di­rec­tor Mike Bohn turned to the Colorado na­tive do­ing great things at North­ern Colorado, and be­fore long new coach Tad Boyle was tak­ing the CU pro­gram to new heights.

McClain fi­nally will re­turn to the CU Events Cen­ter Satur­day, as he leads his Illi­nois-Chicago team into a non­con­fer­ence bat­tle that will mark the Buffs’ fi­nal home game for a month.

“I wouldn’t say that I know him well, but I do know Steve,” Boyle said. “He’s been around a long time and coached at a lot of dif­fer­ent places. This is an op­por­tu­nity for him, it’s an op­por­tu­nity for his play­ers. But it’s also an op­por­tu­nity for us. We have to make sure that we’ve got our edge ready to play.”

McClain’s re­turn to Boul­der is shap­ing up to be an­other high­scor­ing af­fair for the Buf­faloes.

CU is av­er­ag­ing 85.3 points per game. In the four games since a 70-64 loss at San Diego a lit­tle more than two weeks ago, all vic­to­ries, that av­er­age is a touch higher at 88.5 points per game.

The UIC Flames are av­er­ag­ing 81.5 points per game and, like the Buffs, they will bring solid shoot­ing per­cent­ages to the Events Cen­ter at .483 over­all and .381 from 3-point range, though the Flames have a cu­ri­ous drop-off at the free throw line (.684). The Flames are just 4-5 but have played a non­con­fer­ence slate that in­cluded a trip to Notre Dame and a Chicago show­down against 2018 Fi­nal Four dar­lings Loy­ola.

“They’re ex­tremely dan­ger­ous,” Boyle said. “They’ve got great guard play. They’be got bigs that are ath­letic and they just had a four-man (Jor­dan) Blount that just had a ca­reer-high (27 points) against Illi­nois State. We’ve got our work cut out. Those three guards can play at a lot of places. They’re very, very good play­ers. Ex­plo­sive of­fen­sively. Our on-ball de­fense and ball-screen de­fense are go­ing to be chal­lenged in a ma­jor way.”

UIC’s top four scor­ers all are av­er­ag­ing at least 12 points per game. Depth, how­ever, isn’t the Flames’ strong suit, as there is a sig­nif­i­cant dip to 7.2 points per game for the team’s next scorer in line.

The Buffs, mean­while, fea­ture four play­ers av­er­ag­ing dou­bledigit points and two oth­ers — Shane Gatling (9.6) and Evan Bat­tey — knock­ing on that door.

Among those six play­ers, Gatling is the only one not con­nect­ing at a clip of at least 50 per­cent from the floor, though the junior guard has picked up the pace lately with three con­sec­u­tive dou­bledigit scor­ing ef­forts while go­ing 11-for-23 from the floor and 8for-8 at the free throw line dur­ing that span.

“(Satur­day) will be the last (home game) for a while, but we’re ex­cited for the op­por­tu­nity,” CU point guard McKin­ley Wright said. “We’ve been show­cas­ing (of­fense) a lot. These guys have been help­ing me. Ob­vi­ously I’m trust­ing them. My as­sists are go­ing up and my turnovers are go­ing down. Ev­ery­one is get­ting to the right spots where they need to be.”

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