It was 11 months ago when the Oregon Ducks last visited the CU Events Center.
Neither Oregon nor Colorado has been the same team since.
CU’s home arena will be the setting for one of the Buffaloes’ most anticipated matchups in years Thursday night, when the fourth-ranked Ducks take on CU in the Pac-12 Conference opener. When the clubs met in Boulder a year ago the Buffs still were a young team trying to figure out how to reach its potential. Oregon likewise was a wounded, middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 team after limping out of the contest with an 0-8 all-time mark at Colorado.
The fortunes of both teams soon turned dramatically, with the Buffs bouncing back from a loss against Oregon State two days earlier to abruptly turn around their season beginning with a romp over the Ducks. And a year later, the teams’ matchup in the first Pac-12 game of the season could be one of the biggest on the entire league schedule.
“I think that’s when we found out who we were,” CU point guard McKinley Wright IV said. “After that Oregon State loss and before the Oregon game, we all huddled in the locker room and told each other we loved each other. Ever since then, we’ve been clicking at a different level. That Oregon State, it was a loss we didn’t want to have, but it’s one that we needed for us to regroup and bounce back and become us.”
Beginning with the Buffs’ win against Oregon last year, CU went 12-4 the rest of the way, advancing to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and NIT quarterfinals. CU’s 11-2 start this season gives them a 23-6 mark since that matchup, which is oddly similar to the one Oregon has posted in that same span (23-7).
The Oregon win last year began a run of five straight wins and 10 wins in 12 games for the Buffs. The sequence against Oregon last year also was notable for the emergence of forward Tyler Bey. In the forgettable loss against OSU two days earlier, a struggling Bey was relegated to the bench for much of the second half and finished 1-for-7 with just four points and four rebounds.
Against Oregon, Bey posted a career-high 27 points, going 9-for-9 from the field with 10 rebounds. It began a torrid personal run for Bey in which he recorded 11 double-doubles over the final 16 games, eventually earning first team All-Pac-12 honors while winning the league’s Most Improved Player award.
“I know that we were extremely disappointed after the Oregon State loss,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “The thing I’ve learned in my 25 years of coaching college basketball is that young men, college basketball players, are so much more resilient than their coaches. I remember being disappointed for losing to Oregon State, but in terms of the preparation, I’m sure it was no different than today and tomorrow preparing for the Ducks. We just don’t have a loss to kind of sting at like we did last year.”
After the loss at CU, Oregon stood at 13-8 overall and 4-5 in the league. Those marks dipped to 15-11 and 6-8 before the Ducks caught fire, winning 10 of the next 12 games in a run that included the Pac-12 tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Unlike the Buffs, who essentially have remained intact since last year’s battle in Boulder, Oregon coach Dana Altman was forced to revamp a large portion of his roster over the spring and summer around veteran point guard Payton Pritchard.
“It’s the start of league play so everybody is zero and zero right now,” Boyle said. “Everybody feels like they have a new lease on life. It doesn’t matter what your nonconference record was. It’s a new season. Zero and zero and we’ve got I think one of the most talented teams in the league coming into our building and a team that has got a lot of recognition nationally, and deservedly so. They’ve had a great nonconference (season).”