For the Colorado Buffaloes to salvage their season, they didn't have to set their sights on a lengthy winning streak. If they took care of the little details at every practice, and within every game, the rest would take care of itself.
That, essentially, was the message from CU men's basketball head coach Tad Boyle weeks ago when the season outlook remained bleak. Shortly thereafter CU was outplayed down the stretch in a two-point home loss against Oregon State. That defeat dropped CU to 2-6 in the Pac-12 Conference, yet the setback apparently didn't erode the Buffs' faith in their coach's message.
Since that home loss against OSU, the Buffs have reeled off four consecutive wins, a run that continued with a 77-73 victory against visiting Arizona State late Wednesday night. Seemingly destined for a bottom-third finish in the Pac-12 just a few weeks ago, the Buffs now are 6-6 in the league and suddenly in the thick of the race for one of the top four spots that guarantees a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament.
The Buffs will seek their first conference five-game winning streak in 13 years when they host Arizona Sunday night (6 p.m., ESPNU).
"We said about three weeks ago the two things we're going to focus on are getting better every day, and figure out how to win the next game," Boyle said. "And this team, it's almost like when I said that to them and put it in those terms, it's almost like a calm came over them. It was like, 'We don't have to win the rest of our games. We just have to figure out how to win the next game.'
"I want them to think about that in the game. You can't play all the possessions at once. You just have to play the next possession and make it as good as can be and play as hard as you can. Our guys are doing that. The credit goes to them."
The Buffs have been able to make a run despite a rotation that continues to dwindle. With three players in street clothes Wednesday night that were expected to be contributors — Dallas Walton (knee), Namon Wright (foot), and Deleon Brown (academic suspension) — the Buffs suffered another setback when big man Evan Battey left Wednesday's win with just under two minutes remaining in the first half due to a back issue.
While Battey's status for the Arizona game won't be clarified until after Thursday's scheduled day off, the Buffs have been able to weather that adversity lately by dominating the second halves of games. At UCLA last week, the Buffs shot .591 after halftime while outscoring the Bruins 46-36. Three nights later at USC, CU shot .640 in the second half and went 7-for-7 at the free throw line.
It was more of the same Wednesday against ASU. Defensively, the Buffs trimmed 10 percentage points off the Sun Devils' half-to-half shooting percentage (.480 to .382) while CU improved from .438 to .560.
"We've been playing for one half earlier in conference play. We couldn't close out a game," CU point guard McKinley Wright said. "We talk about it every day in practice, every film session — we have to be a two-half team. And I think we've been showcasing that these last couple games."