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CU Buffs to begin key L.A. trip in crowded field atop Pac-12

Buffs look to repeat last year’s trip to southern California

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle signals to his team during a PAC-12 game against the University of Oregon on Jan. 2 at the CU Events Center.
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At the outset of the basketball season, when the schedule was broken down to evaluate the prospects of a run at a Pac-12 Conference championship for the Colorado Buffaloes, it was easy to highlight the first seven games of league play.

For the first time since 2011-12, CU’s first season in the Pac-12, the Buffs began the conference schedule with five of the first seven games at home. That 2012 club went 5-2 in those games, winning every home game and setting the stage for a run to the conference tournament championship two months later.

This year, the Buffs were unable to protect their home floor in the same manner. Nevertheless, CU completed the first seven games of the league slate with an identical 5-2 record after defeating Washington 76-62 on Saturday night to post the Buffs’ first conference sweep of the season.

The late meltdown on Jan. 5 at home against Oregon State likely will remain a setback the Buffs will lament the rest of the season. Yet last week’s win at Arizona State at least put the Buffs back on even ground on the Pac-12 template as the schedule makes a turn with seven of the final 11 regular season games away from home, a run that begins Thursday at UCLA (9 p.m. MT, ESPN2) and continues on Saturday with a key showdown at USC.

“The only way you compete for championships is to figure out a way to win on the road. We’ve proven we can do that, but we have to do it and we have to do it consistently,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We don’t have to win every game, but with that Oregon State home loss our margin for error slips a little bit. We have to make up for that with a couple of road wins, not just one. We’ve got one against Arizona State, but we’re going to have to sweep somebody this season, maybe a couple of them, to put ourselves in a position to compete for a championship.

“But I’m not going to think about seven of 11 on the road. I’m thinking about what do we have to do to win the next game and just be focused on that whether it’s at home or on the road. We’ve proven to be a good team away from home and we’re a pretty good team at home.”

With the trip to Los Angeles, the Buffs return to a city where they achieved a rare feat last season by posting a road sweep, something CU has done just twice in 33 two-game road series within the league since joining the Pac-12. The Buffs have won their past two games at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, and CU also posted an emotional win at USC last year in a matchup that has evolved into a hotly-contested rivalry. There likely will be an added intensity in play against USC, with the Buffs and Trojans among a crowded field atop the league standings.

Cal’s upset win at home against Stanford on Sunday, coupled with Oregon’s win against UCLA, left the Buffs, the Ducks, and USC in a virtual three-way tie for first to begin the week, with the Ducks at 6-2 in the league and CU and USC at 5-2. Stanford trails at 4-2.

“It feels good to be 5-2,” CU point guard McKinley Wright said. “We’re a good road team. We can play on the road. We know what it takes to win at the L.A. schools and our defense and rebounds is going to travel with us. I think we’ll be ready.”