Colorado got back to work on Monday facing twin challenges — preparing for a Washington State club riding a somewhat surprising surge of momentum, while also addressing the rebounding woes that hurt the Buffaloes during their weekend split in Arizona.
Nevertheless, a small piece of program history was made on Monday.
Though the Buffs dropped three spots in the weekly AP Top 25 poll, moving from No. 20 to No. 23 following Saturday’s 21-point loss at Arizona, this week will mark the eighth week this season CU has appeared in the top 25. That matches the Chauncey Billups-led club of 1996-97 for the most in program history.
The ’96-97 squad peaked at No. 15 in the first two weeks of February and was ranked for seven weeks during the regular season before finishing at No. 24 in the final poll of the season, shortly after reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This year’s club has been ranked at every spot between 20 and 25 except No. 22.
Perhaps predictably, head coach Tad Boyle was less concerned about matching that program historical mark than he was the state of his team on Monday as the Buffs began preparations for Thursday’s visit from Washington State (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
“I think it says more about the state of college basketball this year than it does something about the Colorado Buffaloes,” Boyle said. “There are a lot of teams like us that are inconsistent. You win at home, and then you’ve got some head-scratching losses. I look at West Virginia losing at K-State by 18. It’s like, ‘Huh, how did that happen?’ When you see things like that happen, it tells you that it’s just not us. But for us to differentiate ourselves, the only way we do that is by winning games that, quote-unquote, we weren’t supposed to win. Arizona was one of those, even though we were ranked and they weren’t.”
After Saturday’s loss at Arizona in which CU was outrebounded 39-25, point guard McKinley Wright IV said he was going to suggest to Boyle the Buffs go through some box-out drills with a bubble over the basket to re-sharpen the team’s suddenly AWOL rebounding skills. On Monday, Boyle said Wright “didn’t have to” make that suggestion, as the Buffs went through an intense practice focused on regaining an edge on the glass that has been a team strength for much of the season.
The Buffs also endured a film session reviewing Saturday’s loss that magnified what disappointed Boyle the most. Winning in Tucson is tough for every team, and gaining splits on the road probably will keep the Buffs in contention for the conference crown as long as they take care of business at home. But winning at home or on the road won’t occur consistently enough if the Buffs do not compete better than what they showed on Saturday.
“The disappointing thing about the Arizona loss after watching the tape is that I just didn’t feel like we competed as hard we needed to. That’s disheartening,” Boyle said. “Very surprising, and disappointing. I haven’t lost faith in them by any means. I know this is a competitive group. But for whatever reason, we didn’t want to compete with Arizona on Saturday. We didn’t. We have to live with that.”