Buffs' Focus Shifts To Ducks In Pac-12 Quarterfinals
LAS VEGAS - The Colorado men's basketball team arrived here with the near-sighted goal of besting the No. 7 seed Oregon State Beavers. Head coach Tad Boyle and his Buffaloes can now move their focus forward to Thursday night's quarterfinal matchup against the No. 2 seed Oregon Ducks.
No. 10 seed CU caused Pac-12 fans to expect the unexpected on Wednesday night after overtaking OSU, 78-71. No. 12 seed USC's upset over Arizona State in the first round started the engine for the underdogs of the 2015 Pac-12 tournament, and the Buffs fed off of that horsepower.
In Wednesday's first-round win, the Buffs (15-16) were a different team than fans have seen as of late, with points coming from all over the roster and court. Askia Booker led Colorado with 20 points, although he only shot 4-13 from the field. Junior Josh Scott put up 16 points; add 14 boards, and you get Scott's sixth double-double of the season.
Looking to Oregon, both Booker and Scott mentioned that Colorado's ability to play as a team, with or without a distinct star, was an advantage that the Ducks (23-8) lacked. It showed during the first half against Oregon State, as the Buffs closely trailed the Beavers while Booker attempted to thaw an icy start.
"Things open up eventually when you get hot," Booker said. "And I think give the credit to my teammates because I played like crap in the first half, but they kept the game close. They played well. They scored the ball. Josh Scott scored the ball. Xavier Johnson played well. Dustin Thomas. Dominique Collier hit some good shots. So without my teammates we would not have won this game."
Colorado will not beat Oregon - tip time is 7:10 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Networks - unless the ball-sharing continues. Yes, Oregon has Joseph Young, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Yes, Oregon has not lost since Valentine's Day. Yes, the Ducks play defense like they're guarding a nest. Yes, Oregon defeated visiting Colorado 73-60 on Feb. 18 in their only regular-season meeting.
But, the Buffs have size, and Boyle knows the mismatches are there. "They're playing really without a true big man other than the freshman they've got, who is a good shot blocker," he said. "And then the thing about Oregon is that they kind of keep you off balance a little bit defensively, play a little matchup zone, and they junk it up."
Using Josh Scott's 6-10 frame against his defender will not be enough, though. Boyle expects Oregon to double up on the junior, so the actual scoring may need to lie in his guards outside the paint.
"We'll have to handle double teams and make them pay. You can always say basketball is a simple game. When there's two guys on one guy, somebody's open, we've just got to move the ball and find that guy," Boyle said.
In light of advantage and disadvantage, the MGM Grand Garden Arena allows for a type of even playing field perfect for post-season tournament play. As seen against Oregon State, a neutral court can easily void the seeding system and open the door to upsets.
Scott recognizes these challenges, but believes that they're affecting Colorado in a positive way. In the locker room, he and other players kept throwing out the phrase "win or go home;" these Buffs are not only defying a loss, but also the end of their season.
"It's a new opportunity for us," he said. "Coming in here, we talk about it every day about it being zero-zero. I don't think any of us were happy with how the regular season went for our team. And so we kind of saw this as our time."
Thursday night, with a technically sound, 23-8 Ducks team on the court confronting them, the Buffs will need a little extra something up their sleeves.
Continuing to shock the conference, and even loyal Colorado fans, will require more than basketball strategy. Pulling off a semifinal slot will take an extra dose (or two) of confidence and guts. As in any sport, championship season is not about rankings as it is a certain mentality, and catching fire at the right place and time.
According to Boyle, only a raw will to win will manifest into a win itself. "It's going to take a group of guys that have the refuse-to-lose attitude, and a chip on their shoulder, and playing with a sense of urgency," he said. "If we have that, we've got to live to see another day . . . our whole team will be ready. We'll be ready to roll."