LAS VEGAS — It never is easy to beat another team three times in a single season. In order to claim that Pac-12 Conference tournament championships, the Colorado Buffaloes will have to pull that feat for a second consecutive night.
After securing the program’s second berth in the Pac-12 Conference title game, and the first since 2012, with a third win in 2020-21 against USC late Friday night, the Buffs will also look to make it a perfect 3-0 campaign against Oregon State when the teams collide for the title Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena (8:30 p.m. MT, ESPN).
Fifth-seeded Oregon State, which defeated top-seeded Oregon in Friday’s semifinals, is making just its second conference title game appearance and the first since losing to Arizona in 1988.
“When you start talking about Oregon State, you got to start with Ethan Thompson. But they’ve got other weapons,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Jerod Lucas is as good a 3-point shooter as there is in this league. He’s a great 90-plus percent free throw shooter. (Warith) Alitishe is a major problem in terms of his athleticism and he is finishing around the rim. He’s very bouncy. (Roman) Silva, if he catches it deep, forget it. He’s not playing a lot of minutes for them, but when he plays and catches it down low, he’s a load.
“So they’ve got multiple guys that are playing well. Again, we’ve got our hands full. We played them a few weeks ago in Corvallis and we won the game, but it wasn’t an easy win. It wasn’t a blowout win. It was a hard-fought win. And that’s the kind of game we’re going to be in store for tomorrow. Oregon State, they’re playing for their NCAA Tournament lives and a championship. We’re playing for a championship. We’d better be ready to strap it up.”
CU (22-7) posted a 61-57 win at Oregon State on Feb. 20 behind 21 points from McKinley Wright IV and a team mark of 19-for-22 at the free throw line. In a 78-49 home win against the Beavers on Feb. 8, senior Jeriah Horne led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds. CU held the Beavers to a combined 10-for-38 mark (.263) on 3-pointers in those two games.
Wright and Horne have spent the entire season playing as if they have been on the floor together for years, instead of just this season after Horne arrived in Boulder as a graduate transfer from Tulsa.
The pair actually have known one another for years. Originally a Nebraska signee who was one year ahead of Wright in the recruiting process, Horne and Wright met when the Cornhuskers were recruiting Wright out of Minnesota. After Friday’s semifinal win against USC, Wright reminisced about last summer’s conversation as Horne committed to CU.
“Jeriah, he’s been such a huge piece for us on our team,” Wright said. “It’s crazy man, because Jeriah and I were supposed to be teammates four years ago. When he committed to Nebraska I was a senior in high school and Tim Miles was coming up a lot to see me in Minnesota. Jeriah was recruiting me there. Obviously I didn’t go to Nebraska, but I’ve known Jeriah for years now.
“When he was transferring from Tulsa and we offered him a scholarship I talked to him on the phone for an hour, hour and a half, just about life, about the chance to finally play together, about us winning the Pac-12 championship. That’s what he came here to do, is to win at a high level in a Power 5 conference versus really good opponents every night. We complement each other very well and I’m excited for him.”
By advancing to the Pac-12 title game, and scoring nine points apiece in CU’s quarterfinal and semifinal wins, senior D’Shawn Schwartz is in position to reach the 1,000-point mark in his career. His winning tip-dunk with 3.3 seconds against USC left gave Schwartz 984 points going into the Oregon State game, with at least one game ahead in the NCAA Tournament. Schwartz is aiming to become the third player from CU’s 2017 recruiting class to reach 1,000 points, after Wright and former Buffs star Tyler Bey…By matching a career-high with four 3-pointers against USC, Wright jumped from 13th to 10th on CU’s all-time list, passing Donnie Boyce, Levi Knutson, and Xavier Johnson. Wright owns 131 career 3-pointers. Schwartz is eighth on that list with 145, seven behind Marcus Hall…This will be the fourth matchup between the Buffs and Beavers at the Pac-12 tournament, but the first beyond the quarterfinals. CU won each of the previous three matchups with first-round victories in 2013 and 2015, plus a quarterfinal round win in 2019…The Buffs began Saturday ranked 11th in the NET and 17th at KenPom.com.