Pauley Pavilion has turned into friendly confines for CU Buffs’ shooters

No. 20 Buffs look for third straight win at UCLA

BOULDER, CO - Jan. 2, 2020: ...
Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer
Shane Gatling, pictured here in a game at the CU Events Center earlier this month, had seven 3-pointers in his one chance to play at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion during the 2018-19 season.

For more than 60 years, albeit in a relatively few number of contests spread over those decades, a trip to UCLA inevitably has meant disappointment and defeat for the Colorado men’s basketball team.

That was not the case the past two seasons. Now all of a sudden the Bruins’ Pauley Pavilion is almost like the CU Events Center West for the Buffaloes.

In each of the past two years the Buffs have put together standout offensive performances at UCLA, with different players enjoying career nights against the Bruins. It is a recent trend the 20th-ranked Buffs hope will continue when they return to Pauley Pavilion on Thursday to take on UCLA (9 p.m., ESPN2).

“I don’t know why it’s been Pauley,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “But I think since the first of the year, we’ve gotten better offensively. And I think that’s a result of moving the ball, sharing the ball, and taking good shots. Guys are here before practice getting shots up. Guys are here staying after practice getting shots up. I always say it’s my job to make sure we’re taking good shots and we’re getting good shots, and it’s the players’ job to make good shots.”

Two years ago, then-senior George King helped end the Buffs’ 0-8 drought at UCLA, as he knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers on 10 attempts while scoring 26 points. King’s performance led an 11-for-22 effort from 3-point range for the Buffs, who also finished with a .431 overall field goal percentage.

Last year, it was Shane Gatling’s turn. In a dominant performance, Gatling became the first CU player in 14 years to knock down seven 3-pointers in a game, going 7-for-9 with a career-best 28 points to lead an 84-73 win. With Gatling leading the way, the Buffs went 13-for-24 on 3-pointers with an overall field goal percentage of .538.

In those two wins at Pauley the past two years, the Buffs have shot a scorching .511 (24-for-47) on 3-pointers. It also wasn’t the last time Gatling tormented the Bruins, as he went 10-for-10 on free throws with 26 points in the rematch at CU a month later.

“I think it was one of those nights for me, but also I feel like that’s something I’m capable of doing a lot of the time,” Gatling said. “I was just open on most of my shots. I felt great, confident. My teammates kept finding me. As coach Boyle would say, that was the basketball gods in my favor. I feel like if we just play together, find my spots and make the right plays, we’ll be good.”

Picking up a win at UCLA will be crucial in the Buffs’ quest to continue competing for a Pac-12 Conference championship as the calendar turns from January to February. Given the Buffs will visit a streaking USC team on Saturday, with the teams’ recent emotionally-charged matchups likely to intensify with prime positioning in the Pac-12 standings at stake, and Thursday’s Los Angeles opener has the feel of another must-win game for the Buffs.

“I said this after the Arizona game, I’ll say it today, but we’ve got to continue to improve,” Boyle said. “We had a poor practice today, this Tuesday, and we can’t have poor practices. We have to be dialed-in and ready to go mentality every single day. That’s going to be my challenge to this team, is to keep them on edge, keep them hungry. And hopefully competing for a Pac-12 championship will motivate them internally. But if it doesn’t, I’ve got to do a good job of making sure we’re ready to play every single night.”