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Rooney: Final homestand should be one for CU basketball fans to savor

Entertaining squad could see offseason makeover

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

Hard as it is to believe, time is running out for Colorado fans to check out a club that has a chance to go down as one of the best in Buffaloes history.

Regardless of the result of a late Saturday night date at Oregon State, coach Tad Boyle’s basketball squad is zeroing in on an NCAA Tournament berth. The Buffs have been ranked more frequently than any club in program history. The first regular season conference crown in 51 years remains attainable. Moreover, it is an easy team to get behind — from Tyler Bey’s freakish athleticism to McKinley Wright’s stellar point guard play to Evan Battey’s crowd-pleasing ruggedness inside to the 3-point prowess of Colorado native D’Shawn Schwartz.

And, barring a late collapse that dooms the Buffs to the NIT instead of the Big Dance, this week will be the final time Buffs fans can watch them in action at the CU Events Center. During what has been a rough week for the backers of the black and gold, catching one last look at what likely will be an NCAA Tournament team should be a priority this week.

I’m not one to stump for folks to get their backsides in the seats, but this team deserves the support of its fan base. Not that they haven’t so far; CU has bucked the recent annual trend, and, really, a trend across college athletics by averaging slightly more fans per game this season than last year. Another crowd or two like the biggest ones of the season — 10,770 for Oregon, 9,521 for Utah, 10,930 last week for Stanford — will only pad those totals.

The tipoff times should be favorable to raucous atmospheres as well — 7 p.m. Thursday night against USC and 2 p.m. Saturday in the home finale against UCLA.

Of course, it will be the final home games for seniors Shane Gatling, a two-year CU player after transferring from the junior college ranks, and Lucas Siewert, whose gradual improvement and steady presence over his four-year career should be applauded. If the rest of this season pans out as expected, the number of players who have suited up for the Buffs more often than Siewert will be able to be counted on one hand.

But the seniors aren’t the only ones who might be enjoying their last hurrah at the Events Center. The core group that has grown up on the floor over the past three seasons might be breaking up after this season. Specifically, junior Tyler Bey could opt to go pro. If that ultimately is his decision, the forward from Las Vegas deserves to hear it from the CU faithful. Unless Bey gets 13 rebounds against Oregon State on Saturday night, he will join elite company in front of the home crowd, as he entered Saturday’s game needing 13 boards to become just the seventh player in CU history to collect 1,000 points alongside 750 rebounds in his career.

Bey, though, isn’t alone. Point guard McKinley Wright could go pro as well, though that decision seems less likely from Wright than it might be from Bey. Fan favorite Alex Strating will be eligible to move on as a graduate transfer if he wants more playing time elsewhere.

It is a memorable group, with a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Wright and Bey, fan favorites like Battey and Strating, and homegrown heroes like Schwartz, Dallas Walton, and Daylen Kountz. This squad still has unfinished business to be remembered among the all-time Buffs, and anything short of the NCAA Tournament this season likely will dull the collective legacy.

Yet it has been a fun bunch to watch, with young men that have represented the Buffs well. Show them the love this week. Because the next time the Buffs hit the Events Center floor following this week, it could be a vastly different team.