SPOKANE, Wash.— A loss on Saturday at Washington State might have waylaid the Colorado Buffaloes’ plans of making a run at the Pac-12 Conference title.
Championships aren’t won in January, but they certainly can be lost in January. CU managed to stay in what is turning into a crowded lead pack in the league by rallying past Washington State for a 70-59 victory on Saturday night, despite trailing by 18 points in the first half while star point guard McKinley Wright tried to shake off a knee injury.
By the time the Buffs get back out on the road again, their status as either a contender or a pretender in the conference race will likely be determined.
Beginning on Wednesday with an abrupt rematch against Washington State, the Buffs will play five home games in a span of 13 days. The Buffs certainly will profess the one-game-at-a-time approach, but if they can sweep the five very winnable games — WSU, Utah, both Arizona schools, and Oregon State — the Buffs surely will be in the thick of the championship race.
“It’s big-time crucial,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Keeping fingers crossed that we get all 20 (conference games) in. And if we do, we’re going to have to finish strong and win some games on the road. The next five are at home, but that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t figure out a way to beat Washington State on Wednesday. That’s the task at hand.”
CU’s victory at WSU — their fourth this season in a true road game and sixth away from home—kept them at No. 16 in the NET rankings going into Sunday’s play around the country, though the Buffs dropped slightly to No. 18 at KenPom.com. The Buffs already have defeated this week’s opponents, WSU and Utah, on the road.
“It’s a huge homestand right now,” CU forward Evan Battey said. “We’d like to win all five, and I think we’re going to do that. We’re just going to have to take things one day at a time and get better every day and keep improving and just really focus on the next game. It’s critical that we protect our home court, and we’re looking forward to doing that.”
Of course, CU can’t win all the games on this homestand without winning the first one against Washington State on Wednesday night (7 p.m., ESPNU). The Buffs got a lesson in the dangers of a rematch against a motivated foe during the just-completed trip through Washington, as a UW team that lost to the Buffs by 23 points a month earlier in Las Vegas played their best game of the season in a payback win against CU. In this case, the Buffs will try to again topple a Cougars team that had CU down by 18 points in the first half on Saturday.
“We just experienced playing Washington the second time,” Boyle said. “We talked about it before the game that the emotional edge went to Washington. And guess what? They took advantage of that edge. We didn’t answer the bell, so to speak. We’ve got to answer the bell against Washington State. We played 25 minutes of pretty good basketball (Saturday) night. We need 40 in Boulder on Wednesday. They’ll make some adjustments. We’ve got to have another defensive effort from the beginning to the end.”