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Surging in national power rankings, CU basketball gets set for final homestand

Buffs host Los Angeles schools while still in thick of Pac-12 race

Colorado’s McKinley Wright IV prepares to shoot over California’s Grant Anticevich during the February 6, 2020 in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

PORTLAND, Ore. — For McKinley Wright IV, it feels like it was only a few days ago that he and his teammates were packing their bags and bracing for the long journey to China, where the Colorado Buffaloes opened the 2019-20 basketball season against Arizona State.

That was three months ago, yet as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. And for the most part, this season has been an incredibly fun ride for the Buffs. The latest jolt of merriment arrived late Saturday night, as the 16th-ranked Buffs routed Oregon State to salvage a split of their two-game trip through Oregon.

Already the Buffs have reached the end of the road of their home schedule, with CU returning home this week to take on USC on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2) and UCLA on Saturday (2 p.m., CBS) in the final home games for seniors Lucas Siewert and Shane Gatling.

“It’s gone so fast. I remember we were just in China. Now we’re playing our last two home games this week,” Wright said. “We just want to send our seniors out the right way. We’ve got two seniors, Shane and Lucas, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get them two wins at our home. Our crowd, they’ve been there for us. We’ve had a couple sellouts this year. Hope they bring the same energy they’ve been bringing and help us send these seniors out the right way.”

The win at Oregon State kept the Buffs in a virtual tie atop the Pac-12 Conference standings, pending the result of No. 17 Oregon’s home date Sunday night against Utah. The victory, combined with a few CU-friendly results from around the country, bumped the Buffs up to No. 11 in Sunday’s NET rankings and No. 16 at KenPom.com.

The victory also pushed the Buffs to the 20-win mark for the 11th time in program history and the seventh time in 10 seasons under head coach Tad Boyle. Not only is an NCAA Tournament berth growing more secure each passing week, but the Buffs remain in contention for the program’s first regular season conference crown in 51 years. At the very least, CU is on track for its first top-four finish in the Pac-12, which comes with a first-round bye at the league tournament in Las Vegas in three weeks.

Yet those conference goals will be severely dimmed if the Buffs can’t hold serve at home this week. In a season in which the Buffs, and their fans, have bucked recent trends within the CU Events Center as well as nationally with increased attendance totals, Boyle is hoping for two more packed houses as fans get their final chance to catch an entertaining Buffs team at home.

“Number one, we have to do our job and prepare and figure out how to beat USC,” Boyle said. “I just implore our fans to come out and support this team. There’s two more home games. Great tip times. We just need our fans to come out and support this team and give them the kind of energy that I know that they played with tonight. I think our players will be worth it. Five games left in the regular season. Two of them are at home, three on the road. It’s time to figure out how to get No. 21. That’s all we have to concern ourselves with.”