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After big road win, CU Buffs men’s basketball turns focus to critical homestand

CU has opportunity for NET push against USC, UCLA

Dec. 8, 2021- University of Colorado ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Jabari Walker shows his intensity against Eastern Washington’s Rylan Allegri in Boulder on December 8, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

PHOENIX — Sometimes, a coach can take a preseason glance at the schedule and immediately identify a few must-wins on the slate.

One of those dates arrived on Saturday when the Colorado Buffaloes visited Arizona State.

It wasn’t a must-win in the sense that the Buffs are battling the Sun Devils for any Pac-12 Conference superiority, as they are two programs trending in opposite directions. Yet given Saturday’s game was the lone outlier in consecutive weekends featuring three out of four games against top-six opponents, CU needed an addition to the win column.

The Buffs got that win, their first in a true road game this season, with a thorough 75-57 decision. Now CU can turn its attention to the opportunity at hand this week, as the Buffs host No. 5 USC on Thursday and No. 3 UCLA on Saturday.

Both squads are likely to experience a dip when the latest AP top 25 is released on Monday after Oregon defeated both teams in Los Angeles over the weekend. USC also began the week with a loss at Stanford.

“When you look at the schedule, you say OK, we have to get this one, because the others are going to be difficult,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Obviously we didn’t really compete against Arizona. Now we’ve got USC and we’d better be ready to rock and roll. They’re a good team and they’re a nationally-ranked team, a talented team, so here we go.

“The margin for error goes down when you’re playing teams like USC and UCLA. We’ll be ready to play mentally and emotionally and physically. I don’t know how well we’ll play, but we’ll be ready to play. And we’re going to need to play well, obviously, against both those teams to give ourselves a chance.”

Just 48 hours after Arizona handed CU a loss by dominating the second half, the Buffs put together one of their finest all-around performances of the season at ASU.

Offensively, the Buffs went 10-for-25 from 3-point range after entering the game with a miserable .217 mark from the arc in their previous five games away from home. CU posted its highest 40-minute scoring total in six games away from home (the Buffs scored 68 points in regulation against Duquesne in November before finishing with 84 in an overtime win). For just the fifth time this season, CU recorded more assists (a season-high-matching 17) than turnovers (11).

Defensively, the Buffs may have benefited from a rusty Sun Devils squad playing for the first time in two weeks, as ASU missed 10 of its first 11 shots. ASU’s final .238 mark on 3-pointers tied for the third-lowest by a CU foe this season, and CU outrebounded the Sun Devils 46-31 after getting outrebounded by 11 two nights earlier at Arizona.

Despite picking up the road win, defeating a struggling ASU team didn’t provide much juice in the NET rankings, as Saturday’s results from around the nation and the league allowed the Buffs to move up only four spots to No. 91 on Sunday. That shouldn’t be cause for alarm yet in the Buffs’ NCAA Tournament aspirations, and CU obviously has a big opportunity at home this week to make significant NET gains.

“If you drop one, it’s always big to pick that next one up so you don’t end up on a losing streak,” CU sophomore forward Jabari Walker said. “Now we’ve got our confidence back, our mojo back, and now we get to go back home. We wanted a road kill. We hadn’t experienced it yet. It was my first time playing (at ASU) so we wanted to get this win. The crowd was rowdy and it felt great.”

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