At the season’s midpoint, the Colorado men’s basketball team already has had plenty of opportunities to bounce back from rough losses.
In most cases, the Buffaloes have done just that. It’s a commendable quality for any team, yet it’s one the Buffs are sick of utilizing.
Nevertheless, CU will get another shot at it on Thursday night. Fresh off the season’s ugliest loss at California, the Buffs attempt to get back on track in a Pac-12 Conference battle at home against Oregon.
“I know we’ve gotten better this week. I know mentally everybody’s been locked in,” CU guard Javon Ruffin said. “We took ownership and we know we’ve got to get better. This is a great opportunity to bounce back. We’re great at bouncing back. I think as a team though, we’re done doing that. We’re not trying to bounce back anymore. Even with the Cal game, we had the ability to fight back and make it a game we had a chance in. I think that says a lot about our team.
“It’s never over for us. We’re going to keep fighting, no matter what.”
Bouncing back has been a theme of the season for CU. After losing the second game of the year at Grambling State, the Buffs turned around and knocked off No. 11 Tennessee (now ranked No. 8) in Nashville. When CU dropped a three-point decision against UMass in the opener of the Myrtle Beach Invitational, it routed No. 24 Texas A&M by 28 points the next day. And after opening Pac-12 play by blowing a 15-point lead at home against Arizona State, then committing 18 turnovers in a loss at Washington, the Buffs reeled off five consecutive wins before falling flat at Cal.
“This team, one thing they’re not is they’re not quitters,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “Now, they feel sorry for themselves sometimes. One of the things we’ve talked about a lot about this week is our body language when things don’t go well. It’s evident in multiple guys. You can see it on their face, you can see it in their body language.
“But this group isn’t going to quit. I’m taking the big picture approach. I want to have as great a year as we can with this team. But the key for me is we’re improving on what we need to improve on. Which is our defense and our rebounding.”
Thursday’s matchup features two teams nearly identical within the league in key stats. CU ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with a .459 field goal percentage; Oregon is sixth at .453. Both teams have struggled to slow down opposing 3-point shooters, with the Ducks ranking 10th in defensive 3-point percentage (.326) and CU ranking last (.345). After a rough start to the season for the Buffs in terms of turnovers, their improvement over the past month has pulled them into a tie with Oregon for the third-lowest average in the Pac-12 at 13.2 (technically, CU is a few fractions ahead of the Ducks).
Yet it is on the glass where Boyle believes Thursday’s game will be decided. Oregon is third in the league with 11.9 offensive rebounds a game, with the Buffs on their tail at 11.7 per game. The Ducks have done the bulk of that damage recently, collecting a whopping 39 offensive rebounds in the past two games while posting a 19-4 edge in second-chance points during Saturday’s nine-point win against Oregon State.
“If we don’t rebound the ball, we’ve got no chance against these guys,” Boyle said. “Toughness. That’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Oregon Ducks at CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center.
TV/RADIO: TV — ESPN2. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM
RECORDS: Oregon 8-6, 2-1 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 9-6, 1-3.
COACHES: Oregon — Dana Altman, 13th season (308-131, 718-374 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (263-161, 319-227 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Oregon — G Will Richardson, 6-5, Sr. (15.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.3 rpg); C N’Faly Dante, 6-11, Sr. (13.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, .602 field goal percentage); F Quincy Guerrier, 6-8, Sr. (11.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg); C Kel’el Ware, 7-0, Fr. (8.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg). Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (18.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.8 apg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (13.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .509 field goal percentage); F J’Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Jr. (9.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, .552 field goal percentage).
NOTES: The Buffs are unlikely to see former teammate Keeshawn Barthelemy, who transferred to Oregon after last season. Barthelemy played in only four games before suffering an injury, and Altman on New Year’s Eve told reporters Barthelemy was “at least 10 days probably” from returning…Boyle declined to offer a specific timeline on Jalen Gabbidon, who injured his right knee last week at Stanford, but said the senior guard “probably won’t play” this weekend against the Ducks and Oregon State…Boyle and Altman are tied as the longest-tenured coaches in the Pac-12…Oregon (.662) and CU (.652) own the two lowest free throw percentages in the Pac-12…The Ducks were 0-10 all-time in Boulder before posting a 66-51 win at CU last year. Boyle missed that game while battling COVID, the only time he has missed a game in 16-plus seasons as a Division I head coach…CU’s home series continues on Saturday against Oregon State (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network).