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Oregon rematch a pivotal showdown for No. 16 CU Buffs

Win would give 16th-ranked Buffs a two-game lead in Pac-12

BOULDER, CO – FEBRUARY 6, 2020: Colorado’s Tyler Bey and D’Shawn Schwartz celebrate late points against California during the February 6, 2020 in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

D’Shawn Schwartz and his Colorado men’s basketball teammates already have plenty accomplishments to their credit this season. Certainly the Buffaloes want more, much more, yet if the season ended today, already their achievements could be recognized in CU basketball lore.

Through 24 games, no CU team has ever posted a better record than the Buffaloes’ mark of 19-5. The Buffs have been ranked in the AP top 25 in 11 weeks this season, the most in team history. And CU’s perch atop the Pac-12 Conference standings marks the latest in the season the Buffs have led any league since the 1968-69 season, the last time CU won a regular season conference crown.

Still, there is much work still to be done. And moments like the one the Buffs will face Thursday night at Oregon is the sort the bulk of CU’s roster signed up for when they committed to coach Tad Boyle’s program. In first place and ranked 16th in the country, the Buffs visit 17th-ranked Oregon in the most anticipated matchup on the Pac-12 schedule thus far.

“When we were being recruited that’s something that coach emphasized, that we want to be a winning program,” Schwartz said. “I think we have a chance to do something special this year.”

After not having a ranked-versus-ranked matchup in six seasons, Thursday’s showdown will be the second such battle for the Buffs this season, and the stakes can’t be overstated.

A win for CU would give the Buffs a two-game lead over Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings with six games remaining, four of which are against squads that begin the week in the lower half of the conference. A loss for CU would pull the Ducks even with the Buffs with a split of the teams’ season series, and suddenly those final six games would take on a different texture, with the best two teams in that mix at home next week in USC and UCLA and the other four on the road.

“To me, the first game against Oregon doesn’t matter,” Boyle said. “That was January second. They’re a different team now. We’re a different team now. It’s in their building, it’s not in our building. It’s close to sea level, it’s not at altitude. They’re undefeated at home. We know that. They’re a good, solid, talented, well-coached team. You don’t go into Oregon and expect them to beat themselves. They’re not going to do that. You have to go in there and beat them.”

CU opened league play on Jan. 2 with a win against a then-fourth-ranked Ducks squad, though some of the luster from that victory was dimmed three days later in a late collapse against Oregon State, which hosts the Buffs on Saturday night. The Buffs got the job done largely behind strong perimeter defense, holding Oregon to a 3-for-18 mark on 3-pointers, and stellar ball security, committing just eight turnovers, a total that remains the second-lowest of the season.

No doubt, a similar result will require a similar effort in Eugene.

“We’ve been ranked most of the year. The noise is something we should be used to. I think we’ll be OK,” CU junior forward Tyler Bey said. “We’re hyped. This is the game that matters the most for us. We’re in first right now and we want to keep it like that. This is also a game that can put us up two spots (games). We’re going to get out there and compete.”

No. 16 CU Buffs at No. 17 Oregon Ducks

TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m. MT, Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.

BROADCAST: TV — ESPN; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 19-5, 8-3 Pac-12 Conference; Oregon 18-6, 7-4.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (208-128, 264-194 overall); Oregon — Dana Altman, 10th season (253-102, 786-369 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Jr., 13.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.2 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 11.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .406 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-So., 9.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg. Oregon — G Payton Pritchard, Sr., 19.5 ppg, 6.0 apg, 4.2 rpg; G Chris Duarte, Jr., 14.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg; G Will Richardson, So., 10.0 ppg; 3.2 rpg; G Anthony Mathis, Sr., 8.0 ppg, .414 3-point percentage.

WHAT TO WATCH: Oregon’s press can be nasty, but in the teams’ previous matchup the Buffs handled it well with only eight turnovers, one of just three sub-10 turnover efforts by CU this season. Handing the Ducks their first home loss of the season will require a similar performance so the Buffs’ league-leading field goal percentage (.467 in league games) can go to work.

NOTES: The Buffs are 2-7 all-time at Oregon and 1-6 since joining the Pac-12. CU has lost its past three visits to Oregon, most recently a 77-62 loss on Dec. 31, 2017…In the Buffs’ home win against Oregon on Jan. 2, Wright led the way with 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds, while Bey collected 15 points and 14 rebounds…Bey needs just four points to become the 36th CU player to reach the 1,000-point mark in his career…Buffs senior Lucas Siewert needs to make one 3-pointer to tie Donnie Boyce and Levi Knutson for ninth-place all-time (129). Siewert also is set to play in his 123rd game, which will tie Knutson, Stephane Pelle, and Will Smith for 10th all-time…Oregon sharpshooter Anthony Mathis is shooting .414 overall from 3-point line this season but he has shot just .274 (12-for-44) on 3-pointers in Pac-12 play…In league games, the Buffs go into the weekend ranked first in the Pac-12 in assists per game (14.3) and second in rebounding margin (plus-3.7)…CU will look for payback in the finale of the road trip Saturday at Oregon State (8 p.m. MT, FS1).