PALO ALTO, Calif. -- There was a sinking feeling inside the visitors locker room at Maples Pavilion.
Colorado, after getting swept by Cal and Stanford during the program's first Pac-12 road trip, is suddenly knee-deep in mediocrity again.
The Buffs were in a similar spot after a disappointing 4-3 start to the season before turning things around with six consecutive wins at the Coors Events Center.
Now 11-6 overall and 3-2 in the conference, CU returns home licking its road wounds. The Buffs host Arizona State on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday.
"Right now we're mediocre, three wins at home and two losses on the road," head coach Tad Boyle said after CU's 84-64 loss to the Cardinal. "Until we learn to win on the road, we're going to be in the muck. And we don't want to be in the muck.
"We want to elevate ourselves into the top half of the league. This road trip was a great opportunity to get that done, and we didn't get it done. Now it's back to square one."
The Buffs held Cal to 35.1 percent shooting and won the battle on the boards 40-36, but still lost 57-50 to the Bears.
Boyle could live with that result because his coaching philosophy begins with a focus on defense and rebounding.
After tying the score 42-42 three minutes into the second half, CU didn't do anything well as Stanford shot 59.1 percent from the field in the second half and out-rebounded the shell-shocked visitors 35-27 for the game.
"We tried to get a little aggressive defensively. We started doubling their ball screens a little bit, and they got a couple shooters loose," Boyle said. "They went up five (points) and then we got out of that (defense) and tried to get back to just guarding. The floodgates just kind of opened.
"Our defense wasn't good enough to keep us in the game and our offense wasn't good either. I think you have to credit Stanford because they played a heck of a game."
Stanford (15-3, 5-1) and Cal (15-4, 5-1) are tied for first place and the Bay Area road trip, at least on paper, is the most difficult two-game swing in the Pac-12 this season.
The Buffs still have a formidable home-court advantage of their own and seven more chances to pick up some road triumphs.
"In a way I think it's good we started out with the two toughest teams and one of the toughest road trips," said senior forward Austin Dufault, who averaged a team-high 16.5 points on the trip. "We just have to learn how hard we have to play just to be in games."
If the players just want to forget about what happened against Stanford they're going to be in for a long week at the new practice facility.
"What we learned is we have to be tougher. Every time we step into the weight room our guys have to remember this game because we got manhandled," Boyle said. "What we take from this road trip is we're good enough to win in this league, but we've got to do the little things better. We have to execute better offensively, and we have to be tougher."
CU's three seniors (Dufault, Carlon Brown and Nate Tomlinson) responded to a challenge from Boyle after a seventh-place finish at the Puerto Rico Tip-off. True freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker started to play more aggressively after the coach met with them following the Air Force road game.
The entire team will have to come together now to get out of the Pac-12 muck.
"You have to have toughness to win on the road. I feel we're a tough group, but a little immature at the moment," Tomlinson said. "To win in this league you have to win on the road, and we haven't done it."