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AUSTIN, Texas — As the calendar flipped from 2018 to 2019, making a run at the team record for wins in a season didn’t seem like an attainable goal for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
Between a listless showing at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, where the hope of competing for a championship turned into a 1-2 showing, and a Pac-12 Conference-opening set of losses in Arizona that displayed a Buffaloes team that appeared light years away from competing in the league, the Buffs were a team barely treading water and sinking fast.
When the calendar flipped from January to February, so did something in the collective mindset of the Buffs. CU reeled off 12 wins in 15 games, a sudden burst that included a pair of wins at the Pac-12 tournament as well as a pair of wins in the NIT, which CU was eliminated from Wednesday night in a 68-55 loss at Texas in the quarterfinals. After the midwinter doldrums the Buffs ultimately finished with 23 wins, just one shy of matching the program record.
The Buffs are in the rare position of expecting every one of their rotation players from that late run to return next season. With a few additions in store as well, the offseason will be a crucial one for a Buffs team that no longer will be considered young in 2019-20.
“Everybody in that locker room has to get better. And the coaches are included in that,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We all have a responsibility to get better this offseason. Some of our guys need to have the best offseason of their career. We need more than seven or eight guys to go through a season. Obviously staying healthy is important to any team, but you look at (Wednesday’s) game and Texas’ depth wore us down. They went 10-deep.
“I love this team. I love coaching this team, even when we were struggling. (The turnaround) tells you what can be accomplished by this group of guys. If they take the lessons that they learned, they have to understand we can’t have stretches like we had in Hawaii. We can’t lose those kinds of games.”
The most immediate items on the Buffs’ to-do list are to get healthy while Boyle finalizes next season’s roster.
Point guard McKinley Wright soon will undergo left shoulder surgery to repair the partially torn labrum he suffered about three months ago. Redshirt freshman forward Evan Battey battled a minor back issue down the stretch. Guard Shane Gatling played through a sprained ankle during the final two games of the NIT. That list also can include 7-footer Dallas Walton, who is entering the stretch run of his rehabilitation from the preseason torn ACL that cost him the entire year.
One other personnel matter likely to be addressed in the coming weeks is the status of guard Deleon Brown. The junior was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester, playing his final game of the season on Dec. 22 in the first game of the Diamond Head Classic. Boyle said much of Brown’s status would be determined by his second-semester grades, and he didn’t rule out the possibility the situation might leave him with two open scholarships to work with this spring.
“We’re in the transfer market for sure,” Boyle said. “We’ve got some visits set up and we’ll jump right into spring recruiting. It never stops. The season is over with, you catch your breath, but it’s on to spring recruiting and the offseason and getting ready for next year.”