In a span of about 42 hours the Colorado men's basketball pulled off the unthinkable, putting together a pair of eye-popping victories that have the potential of changing the entire complexion of the season.
The key word there is potential. If the Buffaloes intend to prove they are destined for some type of postseason berth instead of falling into a competition for the basement in the Pac-12 Conference — a fate that appeared more likely just a few days ago — CU must find a way to take their impressive home show on the road.
Rebounding from a pair of mistake-heavy losses to open Pac-12 play in Oregon, the Buffs looked like a completely different team while knocking off No. 4 Arizona State and No. 14 Arizona over the course of just three days. It was a monumental step forward for CU and its freshman-heavy rotation. Now a Buffs team that has struggled mightily on the road will be challenged to take the same sort of step this week in Los Angeles against USC and UCLA.
"If we play like we're capable of playing, we can play with anybody in this league," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "We still have to prove that on the road. That's the next challenge for this team. We get an opportunity to do that in L.A. against USC on Wednesday night.
"That's the statement we've made. I believe in this group. I want them to continue to get better and they're a joy to coach."
The Buffs' chances of turning their season around might hinge on coming away with at least a split in southern California, given the team's next road trip two weeks later will be to Arizona to face a pair of teams certain to be eager for payback.
In order to do so, however, the Buffs must limit the mistakes that have marked their play in hostile arenas. CU has yet to win a true road game this season, compiling an 0-4 mark that stretches to 0-5 if a neutral-floor loss against Iowa is included in a decidedly pro-Iowa atmosphere in South Dakota.
Those five games have included some of the Buffs' most frustrating performances of the season. They shot just .395 from the floor in those five games and endured even deeper struggles from 3-point range, compiling a .292 mark. While CU's 15-for-17 mark on free throws in Saturday's win against Arizona improved the team's free throw percentage to .718, the Buffs shot just .618 at the free throw line in those five road losses.
If CU plays as it did against the Arizona schools in its next five home games — Washington State, Washington, Utah, Cal, and Stanford — they will be nearly on pace with the Pac-12 finish of last year's NIT team. If the Buffs want more, however, they will have to find a way to find success without the benefit of home cooking.
"The first two Oregon games, I think we lacked high energy from the start," CU freshman guard McKinley Wright said. "(Against Arizona) we came out and tried to punch them in the mouth. I think if we have that type of energy we can beat anybody in our league. We just play like this every night — play with this type of energy, this effort."