TEMPE, Ariz. — There perhaps are several lines of demarcation Colorado men’s basketball fans can point to as to where the season went astray for the Buffaloes.
One of them assuredly was the meltdown that occurred on Dec. 1 at the CU Events Center.
At that point, CU already had impressive neutral-floor wins to its credit against Tennessee and Texas A&M. Sure, there had been missteps to that point, like a Nov. 11 loss at Grambling State and a pair of rough losses in winnable games at the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Yet as the schedule rolled into December, the promise far outweighed the early setbacks for a team still learning to play together.
Then the Buffs fell apart against Arizona State. One can argue CU never truly recovered.
At long last CU will get a rematch against the team that arguably set them down a gradual spiral in the Pac-12 Conference, as the Buffs seek an elusive road win on Thursday night at Arizona State.
“We felt like we gave one away,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “As you prepare for Arizona State, you have to handle their pressure. They pressure you. They get after you in the full court. They get after you in the half court. They jump passing lanes. So you’ve got to be able to handle their pressure and attack under control and make good decisions with the basketball. We’ll stress that going into Thursday night’s game.”
That Dec. 1 showdown was the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams, and it was one the Buffs squarely had in control late in the second half. A free throw from Tristan da Silva gave the Buffs a 12-point lead with 6 minutes, 7 seconds remaining.
Then it all fell apart, and the Buffs still haven’t put it back together.
CU scored just three more points the rest of the night, while the Sun Devils reeled off 13 consecutive points to start a game-closing 16-3 run, stunning the Events Center crowd in a 60-59 decision. All of the shortcomings that have led to a disappointing season for the Buffs were on display. CU finished 9-for-17 at the free throw line while the Sun Devils posted a 22-7 edge in points off turnovers thanks to the 20 turnovers committed by the Buffs.
ASU finished just 5-for-26 on 3-pointers that night, and the Sun Devils enter Thursday’s rematch with a .294 mark from the arc in league games that ranks 11th in the Pac-12. Yet in Boulder, ASU made three of those five 3-pointers during its game-closing run.
Three days later, CU recorded 18 turnovers in a loss at Washington, and after that sloppy start to the Pac-12 schedule the Buffs have not spent a single day over .500 within league play. Going an entire season without once being above .500 in league play has occurred just once in 13 seasons under Boyle — in 2016-17, when the Buffs started 0-7 in the Pac-12.
“I think this league, outside of UCLA, I think on any given night anybody can beat anybody,” Boyle said. “I think that’s true for us. It’s true for Arizona State. It’s true for Utah and everybody. They’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of tough kids, and they play with reckless abandon. We’ve just got to be able to match their intensity and match their pressure.”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at Arizona State Sun Devils
TIPOFF: Thursday, 6 p.m. MT, Desert Financial Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
TV/RADIO: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 14-12, 6-9 Pac-12 Conference; Arizona State 18-8, 9-6.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (268-167, 324-233 overall). Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 8th season (136-108, 178-128 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.8 apg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (16.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .516 FG%, .419 3%); G Nique Clifford, 6-6, Jr. (6.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Luke O’Brien, 6-8, Jr. (5.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg). Arizona State — G Desmond Cambridge Jr., 6-4, Gr. (14.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .358 3%); G DJ Horne, 6-1 Jr. (11.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg); G Frankie Collins, 6-1, So. (11.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.6 apg); F Warren Washington, 7-0 Sr. (8.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, .574 FG%).
NOTES: CU has won its past two games at ASU, including a 75-57 win last year behind an 18-point, 13-rebound double-double from Jabari Walker. … The Sun Devils won in Boulder on Dec. 1 after Desmond Cambridge hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining. His brother, Devan Cambridge, went 7-for-12 with 18 points. … ASU played that game without Collins, who ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 4.6 assists per game. … Washington missed ASU’s two games last week in the Bay Area due to an illness and his status remains uncertain for Thursday. … The Buffs are just 1-8 in true road games this season. … ASU’s defensive field goal percentage of .404 in league games ranks third in the Pac-12. … CU’s trip through the desert continues on Saturday night at No. 8 Arizona (6 p.m., ESPN2).