BERKELEY, Calif. — It was an admission no basketball player enjoys making. Yet it was one that, with a few weeks of hindsight, Jabari Walker had to concede regarding the Colorado Buffaloes.
Walker had just posted his fourth consecutive double-double, and his Pac-12 Conference-leading 13th of the season, to help lead the Buffs to a trip-opening 90-64 victory at Oregon State. It was a perfect start to a demanding road trip, but the Buffs have learned from experience that extended trips don’t get any easier.
Three weeks ago, the Buffs opened a three-game trip with a solid win at Oregon, only to stumble to ugly losses at Washington and Washington State. Granted, personnel issues battered the Buffs on that trip — by the end of it, both Tristan da Silva and Elijah Parquet were sidelined — but from head coach Tad Boyle on down, missing players did not excuse the sort of listless efforts that led to a 43-point showing at Washington State.
Walker isn’t certain the Buffs exuded the same mental focus the remainder of that previous trip as they did at the start. It is a lesson the Buffs are trying to keep squarely in mind as they move on to the Bay Area, where they play their only game of the regular season against Cal on Thursday night.
“Mentally, we need to stay locked in,” Walker said. “Last time around we got kind of complacent after the first win. We thought the rest of them would be kind of easy. But the truth is, it’s harder as the trip goes along because it’s a toll on the body and it’s a toll mentally. I’m more locked in than ever and I’m excited about that. We’ll put that one (win at OSU) away and prepare for the future.”
Like Oregon State, the matchup against Cal presents an opportunity for the Buffs to pick up another road win against one of the programs mired in the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. Unlike OSU, Cal comes into the matchup riding perhaps its best momentum of the season, having posted consecutive wins on the heels of a 10-game losing streak.
That mini-run by Cal includes an impressive performance on Saturday at Oregon, where the Bears won for the first time. Cal took control with a dominant 24-0 run in the first half and, despite entering Thursday’s game against the Buffs ranked 10th in league games in defensive 3-point percentage (.301), the Bears held a good-shooting Ducks team to a 5-for-27 mark from the arc on Oregon’s home floor.
For the Buffs, a three-game winning streak is on the line. And while the Buffs remain on the outside of the top four spots in the Pac-12 standings, which includes a first-round bye at the conference tournament, that sort of landing spot still very much is in the mix for CU if it can keep picking up wins against the Pac-12’s bottom dwellers.
“The challenge was winning the first one. Now you just move to the next day and take each day as it comes,” Boyle said. “I’ve got to look at the minutes we played (at OSU). We’ve got a pretty thin rotation. (Wednesday) is going to have to be a game-plan day. We’ll get a good stretch in Berkeley, maybe great some shots up. We don’t practice very long or very hard, but we do get to the gym and get a sweat going and turn the page.
“But the key is having maximum effort on Thursday night at tip time.”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at Cal Golden Bears
TIPOFF: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MT, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 16-9, 8-7 Pac-12 Conference; Cal 11-15, 4-11.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (249-152, 305-218 overall). Cal — Mark Fox, 3rd season (34-53, 320-229 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.5 ppg, 9.2rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 11.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .458 3-point percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg; Tristan da Silva, So., 9.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg. Cal — G Jordan Shepherd, Gr., 14.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg; F Andre Kelly, Sr., 13.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg; F Grant Anticevich, Gr., 10.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg.
NOTES: CU is just 2-14 all-time at Cal and just 1-7 in Berkeley since joining the Pac-12…The Buffs’ 90 points at Oregon State on Thursday was their most in a true road game since scoring 93 at Air Force on Nov. 24, 2018. CU’s 26-point margin of victory was its largest in a road conference game since joining the Pac-12…The Buffs improved their Pac-12-leading 3-point percentage in conference games to .385 with their 10-for-21 effort at OSU. CU has shot .500 (31-for-62) from the arc over the past three games…Battey has averaged just 8.4 points over the past seven games, though he matched a season-high with three assists at Oregon State…Walker owns the Pac-12’s overall lead in rebounds per game, as well as the top total in conference games (10.5)…Buffs sophomore Nique Clifford has posted three consecutive double-digit scoring games for the first time in his career. He has shot .679 (19-for-28) over the past four games…CU’s three-game road trip concludes on Saturday at Stanford (8 p.m. MT, ESPNU).