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In order to set up critical showdown, CU Buffs must first take care of Arizona State

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University of Colorado Boulder's Jabari Walker ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado Boulder’s Jabari Walker gets to the basket past Oregon’s Quincy Guerrier during Pac-12 play in Boulder on Feb. 3, 2022.

Particularly for a team competing with just one senior, and with a rotation largely devoid of experience playing pressure-packed games in February, the Colorado men’s basketball team has done a commendable job of embracing the one-game-at-a-time approach during its win streak.

That approach might be more difficult to maintain, yet even more critical to do so, this week.

Following a well-earned day off Sunday, the Buffaloes resumed practice on Monday with an eye on Thursday’s game against Arizona State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network) that opens the final homestand of the regular season.

The Buffs’ five-game winning streak has pushed CU squarely into the mix for a top four finish in the Pac-12, which is rewarded with a first-round bye at the league tournament. And the run has at least opened the door for eventual NCAA Tournament consideration if the Buffs can keep the good times rolling.

The Buffs began Monday at No. 79 in the NET rankings, a full 15 spots ahead of where they were going into their makeup date at Oregon State last week. Three road wins later, and CU has an opportunity to play its way into the tourney conversation.

That conversation almost certainly will require a win on Saturday against Arizona, which took over the No. 2 spot in the latest AP Top 25 on Monday. It is the sort of marquee win missing from the Buffs’ resume, but one that won’t matter if they don’t take care of the Sun Devils.

“There’s definitely talk surrounding the opportunity that we have, but at the same time we look at it as one game at a time. We understand that,” CU sophomore Jabari Walker said. “It takes each game to put ourselves in better position. We’re focused on our future. We’re excited about our future. But we’re not taking for granted the opportunity we have in each of the games.”

CU (18-9, 10-7 Pac-12) posted a solid 75-57 win at Arizona State on Jan. 15, but the Sun Devils have enjoyed their own hot streak of late, winning three consecutive games going into a Monday night makeup date at UCLA. Over the weekend, ASU swept Oregon and Oregon State at home, posting the program’s first back-to-back wins of at least 20 points within conference play since 2003.

The Buffs begin the week a half-game behind fourth-place Oregon with three games remaining. The Ducks have four games remaining, with home dates this week against the Los Angeles schools followed by a two-game trip through Washington during the final weekend of the regular season. CU completes the regular season on March 5 at Utah, which is tied for 10th in the league.

ASU (10-15, 6-9 Pac-12) is in ninth place but owns a number of quality wins, including a season sweep of Oregon and a Feb. 5 upset of UCLA. On Feb. 12, the Sun Devils also won at Washington State, where the Buffs lost by 27.

“They’re all big. They are all big right now,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “When you’re in the hunt to finish in the upper half in the league, when you’re in the hunt for a first round bye at the Pac-12 tournament, every game is important. There’s only three left.”

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