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Search for answers goes into rivalry week for Colorado men’s basketball

Colorado native Luke O'Brien (left) will get his first taste of the CU-CSU rivalry when the Rams visit this week.  (AP Photo/Caean Couto)
Colorado native Luke O’Brien (left) will get his first taste of the CU-CSU rivalry when the Rams visit this week. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)

SEATTLE — The struggles of the Colorado men’s basketball team have dropped the program into uncharted territory. At least in the Tad Boyle coaching era.

Sunday’s mistake-filled 73-63 defeat at Washington dropped the Buffaloes to 4-5 while going winless in their first two Pac-12 Conference games.

It is the worst record through the first nine games of a season in Boyle’s 13 years at CU. Granted, the slate has been tougher than the typical November or early December. And it’s been a road-heavy schedule so far with only three home games. Still, Colorado hasn’t had a losing record through nine games since a 3-6 mark in the 2006-07 season. That was Ricardo Patton’s final year at CU, when his run in Boulder bottomed out with a 7-20 final record.

CU is very much unlikely to sink to those lows this season. But Sunday’s loss marked the Buffs’ first back-to-back defeats of the season, and although CU finally gets to play at home on Thursday, it will have to try to get back on track in a rivalry battle against Colorado State (7 p.m., ESPN2).

Thanks to that early competition, the Buffs still came in at No. 64 in the season’s first NET rankings released on Monday.

“They’re trying their best. We’re all trying. But trying doesn’t get it done,” Boyle said. “I’m frustrated. They’re frustrated. We’ve got to stick together. Which we will. We’ve got to get better. Which we will. We have to grow out of these growing pains. Which I hope we will.”

Plenty has gone sideways for the Buffs so far. One of the top free throw shooting teams in the Pac-12, and even in the nation two years ago, CU has posted a.648 mark at the line after going 6-for-13 at UW. Expected to be a solid team from long range, CU is shooting just .323 on 3-pointers. Exclude the 16-for-32 mark the Buffs posted in an upset of Texas A&M, and CU has shot .289 from the arc in its other eight games.

In the two Pac-12 losses, the Buffs struggled at the start of each second half. CU led Arizona State by 15 at the break, but allowed the Sun Devils to get a couple quick buckets off Buffs turnovers, setting the stage for ASU’s comeback. At Washington, CU trailed by seven at halftime but watched the Huskies pull away with a 10-3 run to start the second half.

“I guess it’s been a pattern, the first couple minutes of the second half,” forward Tristan da Silva said. “We’ve just got to come out stronger. We didn’t do that, so that kind of made things tough on us. We could have made it easier on ourselves. It comes down to discipline. We have to make sure that we focus on every possession. Can’t take possessions off. Got to stay locked in and do our job every possession. We’ve got to get back in the gym and work on that.”

This week, CU plays its rival from Fort Collins for the first time in three years. The teams’ scheduled matchup early in the 2020-21 pandemic season was canceled, and both programs agreed not to reschedule the game last year in case they became matched up at the Paradise Jam tournament, which ultimately didn’t happen. Due to that delay, no current CU player has ever faced the Rams, giving Boyle another task this week in educating the Buffs on the state’s biggest collegiate basketball rivalry.

“I’ll let these guys know what the game means,” Boyle said. “We’ll be ready to go Thursday night. I can promise you that. Our guys will be ready to play Thursday night. I don’t have any worry about that. How well they play, I have absolutely no idea. But I know we’ll be ready. Mentally, emotionally, we’ll be ready. I just hope we play well enough. It’s the playing well part right now that we’re struggling with. It’s as much on me as it is on the players. We’re all in this thing together. They know that. I know that. We know that. This team will get better, I promise.”