It’s no secret Tad Boyle enjoys riffing about what Alex Strating brings to the Colorado basketball roster, even when the junior forward doesn’t get into a game.
So it perhaps was somewhat surprising Thursday night that Boyle didn’t veer into talk of Strating’s short yet meaningful appearance during the Buffaloes’ win against fourth-ranked Oregon.
Granted, Strating’s five-minute contributions were far overshadowed by Tyler Bey’s dominant double-double, McKinley Wright’s clutch play in the final five minutes, and the big-picture ramifications of a Pac-12 Conference opening win against the team the Buffs likely will be chasing in pursuit of the program’s first Pac-12 crown.
Yet throughout the season, Boyle has reiterated his faith in his little-used but highly-trusted fourth-year forward. That trust was backed up against the Ducks, as Strating, now a fan favorite, made his first appearance in meaningful minutes since the season opener against Arizona State.
As he did down the stretch last year, including against an Oregon State squad set to visit the CU Events Center on Sunday (4 p.m., ESPNU), Strating made several critical plays in what amounted to a glorified cameo.
“I’m sure there are some people saying why the hell aren’t you playing him more,” Boyle said. “I’m serious. There’s only so many minutes to go around. You want to have a rotation. It’s hard to play five guys two minutes each. There’s only so many minutes. It’s just nice to have a guy like that on your team. And the players and the coaches and obviously the fans appreciate that and recognize that. That’s what makes great teams great and special teams special.”
With forward Evan Battey saddled with foul trouble against Oregon, Boyle turned to Starting. The junior delivered two points and a rebound, and also would have earned an assist if not for a Lucas Siewert 3-pointer that went halfway down before rattling out.
Since playing seven minutes against ASU in the season-opening win in China, Strating had logged just 10-plus minutes over 12 games before coming through against Oregon. Despite the limited minutes, Strating’s big finish last year elevated him to fan-favorite status, and his play against the Ducks energized the sold out crowd at the Events Center.
“I think it’s a big function of practice how you play,” Strating said. “Practice hard and you’ll be able to play hard. Also (strength) coach (Steve) Englehart keeps me in shape in the weight room and keeps my cardio in a good place.
“I don’t really notice (the applause) when I’m out there. I notice it when I come out. It’s really special for me, the Boulder crowd.”
Against Oregon State, Strating again will face the team against whom he tormented in a career-best performance in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 quarterfinals last March, going 4-for-6 with a career-high 10 points. It was a milestone effort, and Strating also reached a personal milestone recently as he officially graduated with a degree in mathematics after the first semester. He currently is working on a second degree in economics.
“He comes to practice every day, so I see him at practice and we see what he does, we see what he’s about,” Boyle said. “He’s running the sprints. He’s winning the sprints on the gray team half the time. He’s a guy that prepares himself. When his number is called, you know he’s going to be ready. Last night, again a testament to him and his mental toughness. He’s got the respect of his teammates and he sure as hell as the respect of his head coach. I’m not afraid to put him in against anybody.”