Even with the myriad issues that have dogged the Colorado men's basketball team — subpar defense, often lagging energy, general inconsistency — the Buffaloes nonetheless have given themselves a fighting chance.
Given the dismal 0-7 start in Pac-12 Conference play, which also marked the longest losing streak in the seven-season tenure of head coach Tad Boyle, a fighting chance is all the Buffs and their fans could have asked for.
CU was granted at least a momentary reprieve on the collapse of its season-long goals with its victory Saturday night against No. 10 Oregon, an effort that saw the Buffs finally play to their full potential against a team harboring legitimate Final Four aspirations.
The game also marked the midway point of the Pac-12 schedule, with CU reaching the turn with a 2-7 league mark following consecutive wins against Oregon State and the Ducks. No doubt the Buffs face an uphill climb. Yet with five of the final nine games at home, and no more dates against Pac-12 heavyweights Arizona and UCLA, making a second-half run hardly is out of the question.
The trick will be whether the Buffs can actually build on Saturday's spirited effort, instead of eventually remembering it as a positive blip in an otherwise disappointing season.
"It's not going to be easy," Boyle said. "We're halfway through the conference season. The first nine games are in the rearview mirror. I'm going to try not to think about them unless we talk about them. I want to look forward."
With dates this week at Stanford and Cal, the first step the Buffs must take is to correct the road woes that have plagued the team for the better part of the past calendar year.
Heading into Thursday's game at Stanford, the Buffs are saddled with a 10-game road losing streak within the Pac-12, a run of frustration that dates back to a win at Washington State on Jan. 23 of last year. On paper, Stanford and Cal remain winnable games if the Buffs perform anywhere near the level they displayed Saturday night. Yet just a week ago CU lost on the road against a Washington State team that managed just 47 points two nights earlier in a 41-point loss at home against Utah.
"This could be how we turn it around," junior George King said. "Going forward, looking at our schedule, we can beat anybody. But we have to consistently guard for 40 minutes. But yeah, this is definitely how we can turn this ship around."
Even with the glass-half-full outlook, that Saturday's victory can be a harbinger of better things to come for the Buffs in the second half of the league slate, CU has its work cut out for them to even reach the outskirts of the bubble of NCAA Tournament consideration. CU began Sunday with an RPI of 112, sandwiched between such hoops luminaries as Mississippi State and Loyola (Ill.). Until Saturday the Buffs' most impressive victories were against Texas and Xavier, two teams that are falling short of their respective preseason billings.
Still, any turnaround has to begin somewhere. And CU's win against Oregon certainly counts as a step in the right direction.
"We haven't played with that kind of passion and energy and effort on defense for 40 minutes all year," Boyle said. "Hopefully we can build for this. We went through that losing streak, and I was focused on the next game. Let's just figure out how do we win the next game. We've won two in a row now. Whoop-de-do. That's great, don't get me wrong. I'm glad we did.
"But it's about the next game. I'm not worried about streaks or runs. What do we have to do to win the next game? I know it's cliché and kind of plain vanilla, but I just want these guys dialed-in. If they're dialed-in, we can play with anyone in this league. And there's a lot of basketball to be played left. We've some guys I think, the end is near for their careers. Hopefully they can really rise up and meet the challenge."