Boyle's Buffs Open Three-Game, Six-Day Stretch At Utah
BOULDER — With three games over the next six days, Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes have a chance to move out of the "muck" and into the Pac-12's upper division.
The Buffs (8-3 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) are currently tied for sixth in the league standings with Washington State. They open their week Monday with a 4 p.m. game at Utah, followed by home games Thursday against Cal (noon) and Saturday against Stanford (1 p.m.). All three will be televised by the Pac-12 Network.
The Utah game is Colorado's second Monday Pac-12 game this season, a rarity created by Covid-19 postponements and rescheduling. It is also CU's second three-game conference week of the season.
The Buffs are looking at this week as an opportunity to begin to separate themselves from the pack. After league leader UCLA 9-2. 5-0), the next nine teams in the standings have between one and three losses.
"The most consistent teams and the teams that find ways to win are going to rise to the top," Boyle said. "Right now, we're 2-2. We haven't risen to the top. If we find a way to win that UCLA game (a 65-62 loss on the road), we're 3-1 and now we're in the conversation. But until we start doing that on a consistent basis, we'll be in the muck like everybody else. We don't want to be in the muck."
Headed into this week, UCLA (9-2, 5-0) is the only unbeaten team in conference play. The Bruins have been one of those teams Boyle is talking about — a consistent group that has found ways to win those close games. So far, UCLA has collected one-possession wins over Utah and Colorado as well as an overtime victory at Arizona State.
"The UCLA loss still sticks with us because we thought we could have won that game — but again, UCLA finds ways to win games," Boyle said. "That's what you have to do in league play. You have to find ways to win games. Some teams find ways to win 'em, some teams find ways to lose 'em."
Monday's return to Utah's Huntsman Center — where Colorado has lost eight in a row — will no doubt resurrect some unpleasant memories for the Buffs. In CU's last appearance there (last year's regular season finale), Colorado dropped a 74-72 overtime decision that was ultimately decided by a questionable foul call that gave Utah three free throws in the final seconds of overtime. The Buffs had a two-point lead with 19 seconds left in regulation in the game, and led by one with 8 seconds left in overtime, but could not protect the lead in either instance.
It was just the latest in a long list of close-but-no-cigar finishes for the Buffs on the Utes' home floor.
"The biggest reason is we can't finish games," Boyle said of CU's recent struggles at the Huntsman Center. "Last year is a great example. We had the game won and we couldn't get the stop at the end. Questionable call, but it went their way. They won the game, we lost the game."
Monday's game, Boyle said, won't involve any special strategies.
"It's going to come down to toughness, it's going to come down to making plays, it's going to come down to making shots," he said.
MILESTONES AHEAD: If Colorado senior point guard McKinley Wright IV hits his season average Monday for assists (5.2 per game), he will surpass former Colorado great Jay Humphries as CU's all-time assists leader.
Wright enters the game with 558 career assists, just four behind Humphries' career mark of 562.
"He's breaking a guy's record who I played against," Boyle said. "Jay Humphries played 15 years in the NBA. He was a helluva player at Colorado, was a helluva player in the NBA. He's breaking a guy's record who was a really special player."
Indeed, Humphries is remembered as one of Colorado's all-time greats — and Wright will enter that pantheon as well.
In fact, Colorado's annual team award for assists leaders — currently named after Humphries — will bear Wright's name beginning next year.
Wright is also closing in on another milestone — one that no Pac-12 player has ever reached. With 1,546 points, 560 rebounds and 558 assists, he is on pace to hit 1,600-600-600.
If he does hit those numbers, he would be the first player in Pac-12 history to do so. Currently, he is one of just four players from a conference program to have hit the 1,500-500-500 combination. The others are Oregon's Ron Lee (2,065 points, 580 rebounds, 543 assists), Oregon's Payton Pritchard (1,938-550-543) and Utah's Andre Miller (1,618-643-721).
NET RANKINGS: The Buffs were at No. 11 in Sunday's latest NCAA NET rankings, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team. The Buffs have two Quadrant One victories, at USC (No. 16) and home against Oregon (25). Other Pac-12 teams in the top 50 include UCLA (31), Arizona (36) and Stanford (46).
NATIONAL LEADERS: Heading into Sunday's action, Colorado was still the nation's best free throw shooting team, hitting 85.64 percent of its attempts (169 of 195). That includes eight players hitting at least 80 percent of their tries.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: The Buffs this week face two teams behind them in the conference standings and one ahead of them. CU has yet to win back-to-back conference games this year, something a win Monday would accomplish. Meanwhile, a 3-0 week would move Colorado up in the division standings and provide some much-needed momentum for what's ahead. After this week, CU heads back on the road for a pair of games at the Washington schools.
Utah (4-4, 1-3) — The Utes are coming off of a 79-73 loss to Oregon on Saturday, a game they had a chance to win — but one in which they committed an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers.
The Utes are led by 6-foot-6 forward Timmy Allen, who leads his team in scoring (15.4 points) and rebounding (5.3 rpg). They also have capable scorers in guard Alfonso Plummer (13.4 ppg) and 6-8 forward Mikael Jantunen (10.3 ppg). Plummer and fellow guard Rylan Jones are also dangerous 3-point shooters.
As usual, Larry Krystkowiak's Utes are solid defensively, giving up 65.75 points per game (fourth in the Pac-12)
Cal (6-7, 1-5) — Mark Fox's Bears are struggling this season. They finally earned a conference win by defeating Washington, 84-78, on Saturday, but they are at or near the bottom of the league in scoring (68.85 ppg), scoring defense (68.92 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.451).
The Bears' recent struggles — three losses in their last four games — can be attributed in large part to the absence of all-conference guard Matt Bradley, who has been out with an ankle injury. Bradley is averaging nearly 18 points per game, with Cal's next two top scorers — Ryan Foreman and Makale Foreman — averaging just under 11 points each.
It's not known whether Bradley will be available for Thursday's game.
Stanford (8-3, 4-1) — Picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, Jerod Haase's Cardinal tested themselves early, defeating Alabama and losing close games to North Carolina and Indiana.
They have since won seven of their last eight, including their last three. They swept the Washington schools over the weekend, and their only conference loss thus far was a 73-56 defeat at Oregon.
The Cardinal has a quality lineup, led by 6-9 senior forward Oscar da Silva, a first team all-conference pick who leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.8 points per game. Stanford also has one of the nation's best freshmen, 6-8 forward Ziaire Williams, a five-star recruit who is averaging 11.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.
The Cardinal has been missing senior guard Daejon Davis, out since mid-December with a leg injury.
Stanford is fifth in the Pac-12 — right behind Colorado — in rebound margin, averaging plus-4.73 on the boards this season.