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Elusive road sweep within reach for surging CU Buffs at Cal

Buffs look to keep rolling at last-place Golden Bears

BOULDER, CO - Jan. 14, 2021: ...
BOULDER, CO – January 14, 2021: Colorado’s D’Shawn Schwartz shoots over Cal’s Joel Brown during the January 14, 2021 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

BERKELEY, Calif. — History is well within reach for the Colorado men’s basketball team. And now is the time the Buffaloes can start truly vanquishing some demons that have been simmering for an entire year.

Putting together arguably their finest all-around performance of the season, the Buffs thoroughly dismantled Stanford on Thursday for a 69-51 win. The win was meaningful on a number of fronts.

Combined with a loss by suddenly-struggling UCLA at Washington State, the Buffs, in third-place in the Pac-12 Conference, moved to within one game of the second-place Bruins in the loss column with a home date still remaining between the teams. It was CU’s fourth road win in Pac-12 play this season, matching the program’s most in the Pac-12 era with ample opportunities to add more.

Most importantly, the road win moved the Buffs into the top 12 as of Friday morning in both the NET (12th) and at KenPom.com (11th). The NCAA Tournament bid that was denied CU when last year’s tournament was canceled is well within reach. But after limping into the abrupt end of last season with a five-game losing streak, the Buffs are after more this year, and CU can make another statement that this stretch run will be different by gaining a rare road sweep Saturday night at Cal.

“I think what you’re seeing with this team is a bunch of seniors who know what happened last year,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “They had the NCAA Tournament pulled out from underneath them last year. They don’t want to let that happen this year. They’re sacrificing off the court. They’re sacrificing for each other on the court. This is a really cohesive group and a mature group.”

The Buffs will aim for just their third two-game road sweep since joining the Pac-12. The current core group achieved that feat two years ago by sweeping through the Los Angeles schools. CU also topped both Oregon schools on the road in 2013.

CU knocked off the toughest part of the Bay Area swing on Thursday, and the Golden Bears seemingly represent a promising opportunity for the Buffs to keep rolling. Cal lost its seventh consecutive game on Thursday night against Utah, and the Bears rank last in league games in overall defensive field goal percentage (.496).

The Buffs certainly are playing like a team that took its come-from-ahead loss against Utah two weeks ago to heart. In the three games since, the Buffs have shot .534 overall with a .462 mark on 3-pointers. Defensively in those three games, CU has held its opponents to a .405 shooting percentage and a 3-point mark of .292. That includes holding a Stanford team that entered Thursday’s game leading the Pac-12 in field goal percentage to a .396 mark.

“I told them after the (Stanford) game, good teams split on the road in Pac-12 play. Great teams sweep,” Boyle said. “We did the first part. Now we’ve got to turn our attention to Cal.

“From the way our team has played the last couple game out defensively, and to hear them in the locker room after the game talking about that amongst themselves — not a coach talking about it — tells me that we’re on the right road here.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball at Cal Golden Bears

TIPOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. MT, Haas Pavilion.

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

RECORDS: Colorado 16-5, 10-4 Pac-12 Conference; Cal 7-15, 2-13.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (226-139, 282-205 overall). Cal — Mark Fox, 2nd season (21-33, 307-209 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 14.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.4 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, G-Sr., 11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg. Cal — G Matt Bradley, Jr., 18.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg; F Andre Kelly, Jr., 10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg; F Grant Anticevich, Sr., 9.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg.

WHAT TO WATCH: CU began Friday ranked ninth in the nation by KenPom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency. They might end up even higher after Saturday against a Bears team that ranks last in the Pac-12 in defensive field goal percentage and defensive 3-point percentage.

NOTES: The Buffs’ 69-51 win at Stanford on Thursday was the fifth-largest margin of victory in program history against a Pac-12 foe on the road…Wright is set to make his 120th start, which will tie Josh Scott for the fourth-most in team history. It will be Wright’s 121st game played, which will tie former teammate Dom Collier for 14th in program history…CU reserve guard Maddox Daniels posted 22 assists against 26 turnovers last year in his first season with the Buffs. This year, while playing almost seven more minutes per game, the former junior college transfer has recorded 23 assists with only nine turnovers…The Buffs are just 2-13 all-time at Cal, though one of those wins occurred two years ago…CU posted an 89-60 win at home against Cal on Jan. 14 behind a season-high 18 points from D’Shawn Schwartz and a 13-point, 12-assist performance by Wright…Since returning from a six-game injury/illness absence, CU 7-footer Dallas Walton has shot 19-for-30 (.633) with a 3-for-4 mark on 3-pointers. Walton also has posted two of his top three rebounding games of the season in the past two contests, grabbing seven against Oregon State and five during Thursday’s win at Stanford…CU’s run of four consecutive road games continues next week in Oregon, beginning Thursday night against the Ducks (9 p.m. MT, ESPN2).