STANFORD, Calif. — A first-round bye at the Pac-12 Conference felt inconceivable for the Colorado Buffaloes just a few weeks ago. It seemed much more likely the Buffaloes ultimately would bid a quick bye-bye to the postseason.
Three weeks ago CU limped home, quite literally, from a three-game road trip that started with a bang in a rare win at Oregon, yet was followed by two of the ugliest performances of the season in losses at Washington and Washington State.
During that time, the Buffs lost freshman center Lawson Lovering and, more frustratingly, senior guard and defensive stopper Elijah Parquet to season-ending injuries. CU also played the two games in Washington without starting forward Tristan da Silva, who suffered a COVID setback, and upon returning home head coach Tad Boyle missed the first game of his career, CU’s first-ever home loss against Oregon, due to his own bout with COVID.
The season easily could have spiraled out of control. Instead, the Buffs used the adversity to spur a comeback and will take a five-game winning streak into the final regular season homestand, which begins Thursday against Arizona State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
“It’s a totally different team,” CU senior Evan Battey said. “It’s because of the players. We keep getting better and keep our heads up, and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s from the whole program, top to bottom. It takes us all. No one person can carry the load for the whole team.”
CU will go into the Arizona State game in sole possession of fifth-place in the conference, and just a half-game back of Oregon for the coveted fourth spot, which comes with a first-round bye at the Pac-12 Tournament.
Oregon likely will have a tiebreaker edge on CU, meaning the Buffs would have to assume that No. 4 spot outright to claim the bye. Yet despite the looming match on Saturday against No. 3 Arizona, the schedule edge over the final two weeks of the regular season tilts toward the Buffs.
While ASU suddenly is enjoying its own hot streak with three straight wins, the Sun Devils are 1-9 all-time in Boulder. CU completes the regular season at Utah, who the Buffs topped at home on Feb. 12. Oregon, meanwhile, hosts the Los Angeles schools this week before visiting the Washington schools over the final weekends of the regular season.
Those two Washington teams could still be a factor in the race for the fourth spot, but in addition to playing each other twice, both teams still have to play Oregon, and Washington also has a makeup date at home against UCLA.
“One game at a time. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low,” Boyle said. “Three weeks ago, coming back from Washington State, we talked about ‘Hey, that wasn’t us.’ That’s not the team that we expect to be or want to be. We didn’t get down on ourselves. The players said, ‘Enough of that’ and they turned this thing around.
“The staff is doing a great job with defensive game plans, and we executed those like we did in the second half (at Stanford), like we did in the second half against Cal. But the players have to go out there and execute, and they’ve done a great job.”