BERKELEY, Calif. — Two weeks ago, it was easy to wonder if the season might spin out of control for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
Yet given time to adjust to players lost for the season to injury, and given time to dive into some soul-searching while coaxing additional mental toughness, the Buffaloes have managed to turn things around. The current three-game road trip already has been wildly more successful than the previous three-game trip last month, yet the Buffs understand the job is not yet finished.
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Buffs will attempt to complete a rare feat by winning a third consecutive conference game on the road when they take on Stanford on Saturday night.
“We knew we were better than our record,” CU freshman guard KJ Simpson said. “We’re a hell of a team with (good) players. This is a really talented team. I think we just had to find that within ourselves. We just need to stay the course. You can’t get too high or too low. You can’t get too excited about a win you know is lovely, and you can’t get too down on a loss. You have to stay even-keeled, and I think that’s what we’ve done good throughout this stretch. We kept our heads high and just stayed together. We’re doing what we’re supposed to.”
CU will look to record just its third three-game road winning streak in conference play since 2002, and its first since 2013. However, of more importance to the Buffs than the historical context is the opportunity to keep their late-season surge rolling as they slowly climb the Pac-12 Conference standings.
Following Thursday’s win at Cal and the subsequent results from around the league, the Buffs go into Saturday’s action at 9-7 in the conference and in a virtual tie with Washington (8-6) for fifth-place.
The showdown against the Cardinal represents not only an opportunity for a somewhat historic road winning streak, but yet another chance for CU to cement its place in the top half of the standings going into the final two weekends of the regular season. A victory would put the Buffs two games ahead of Stanford (8-8 in conference) with three regular season games remaining, and possibly two games ahead of 7-7 Washington State, which plays at No. 17 USC on Sunday.
The Buffs topped Stanford at home in the season’s first Pac-12 game on Nov. 28, and the Cardinal enters the game with losses in three of the past four games, including an inexplicable home loss against 11th-place Utah on Thursday night.
“Our guys are in a really good place mentally right now,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Our shoot-arounds are good. We didn’t practice much (Wednesday) and we won’t practice much (Friday). We’ll get a good stretch and get some shots up and get the game plan for Stanford together. But when we do go, they’re going hard with great energy. This team really likes each other. Evan is doing a fantastic job as our lone senior leading these young guys. The guys really respond to him and they really feel good about each other.
“(Stanford) is the next one up. We haven’t played them (since Nov. 28). It seems like it was another lifetime ago. They’re a different team. We’re a different team. It’s not going to be easy.”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at Stanford Cardinal
TIPOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. MT, Maples Pavilion, Stanford, Calif.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 17-9, 9-7 Pac-12 Conference; Stanford 15-11, 8-8.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (250-152, 306-218 overall). Stanford — Jerod Haase, 6th season (97-85, 177-138 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, .480 3-point percentage; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.0 ppg, 2.5 apg; Tristan da Silva, So., 9.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg. Stanford — F Harrison Ingram, Fr., 11.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.0 apg; F Jaiden Delaire, Sr., 10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg; F Spencer Jones, Jr., 10.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg.
NOTES: Battey led the Buffs’ 80-76 home win against Stanford on Nov. 28 with a career-high 22 points. Five CU players scored in double figures that night, and the Buffs committed a season-low six turnovers…In Pac-12 games, Stanford is the only team averaging more turnovers per game (15.3) than the Buffs (14.4). However, after suffering a run of six consecutive games with at least 16 turnovers, the Buffs have displayed moderate improvement over the past four games, averaging 12.5 turnovers during that span…Walker has made 27 consecutive free throws, the most by a CU player since Spencer Dinwiddie made 33 in a row in 2013…The Buffs have shot .486 (36-for-74) on 3-pointers over the past four games…CU returns to Boulder for the final two regular season home games, beginning Thursday against Arizona State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).