Buffs Square Off With Oregon State In Pac-12 Title Game
LAS VEGAS — Conference tournament title game appearances have been a rarity for the Colorado Buffaloes.
Conference tourney titles have been even more rare.
But Tad Boyle's Buffs (22-7) will add one more appearance to the list Saturday at T-Mobile Arena — and hopefully one more title as well — in the 8:30 p.m. (MT) Pac-12 championship game against Oregon State (16-12).
Saturday's game will be only the third time the CU men have ever played in a conference tourney title game, with Boyle's teams accounting for two of them.
The first came in 1990, when Tom Miller's CU squad fell to Oklahoma, 92-80, in the Big Eight championship game. The second came nine years ago, when Boyle's team ran off four straight wins to capture the first-ever Pac-12 tourney title, capped by a 53-51 win over Arizona.
Saturday's game is not what the prognosticators expected, at least not when the season began. The Buffs were picked in the preseason media poll to finish seventh in the league. Wayne Tinkle's Beavers were picked to finish last.
But Colorado finished third in the league standings and beat Cal and USC to reach the finals. OSU earned the fifth seed and defeated UCLA and top-seeded Oregon to earn a shot at the title.
At stake is the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week in the Indianapolis area.
The Buffs are considered a lock for an at-large bid; a win Saturday would simply improve their seeding.
But the Beavers are considered to be outside looking in and need a victory to continue playing in March.
Colorado swept the season series with Oregon State, rolling to a 78-49 win in Boulder in early February, then grinding out a 61-57 victory in Corvallis two weeks later.
But the first win came at the tail end of a stretch that saw the Beavers play three games in six days. OSU was a much-improved team in the second contest — and since then, the Beavers have rattled off five victories in six games.
"Wayne Tinkle's done an unbelievable job with that team from November, December, to where they are now," Boyle said after the Buffaloes' narrow 72-70 win over USC on Friday. "He deserves a lot of credit and their players have gotten better and their team's gotten better. We have our hands full. They're playing good basketball right now."
The Beavers are led by guard Ethan Thompson, who is averaging 15.6 points per game, while fellow guard Jarod Lucas is scoring at a 12.9 clip. Thompson can score from anywhere on the court; Lucas is a dangerous 3-point shooter, averaging 2.3 treys per game — third best in the Pac-12.
The Beavers are also talented up front, led by athletic forward Warith Alatishe, who is averaging 9.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. Alatishe was a key in the 75--64 win over Oregon, collecting 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"They have got multiple guys that are playing well," Boyle said. "They're playing for their NCAA tournament lives and a championship. We're playing for a championship. So we better be ready to strap it up."
Some trends from the first two games this season:
— The Buffs held Oregon State to a combined 34.5 percent shooting in the two games (39-for-113). Thompson averaged 14 points in the two games, but shot just 9-for-25. CU limited Lucas to just nine total points in the two contests.
— CU shot 56 percent from the floor in the first game and 44 percent in the rematch. Jeriah Horne led Colorado with 16 points in the first win; McKinley Wright IV had 21 points — 15 in the second half — in the second game.
— Colorado was just 4-for-14 from 3-point range in the second game, but hit 19 of 22 free throws.
BROADCAST: The game will be televised by ESPN with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton. KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM will carry the radio broadcast with Mark Johnson and Scott Wilke.