Luke O’Brien has shown he will bring energy and do his best to perform regardless of his place in the rotation.
Yet like any player, O’Brien has always dreamed of starting at the Pac-12 level. This weekend he finally got that opportunity and, given the results, he will likely retain that starting role for the remainder of the season.
Despite a loss on Saturday night at No. 8 Arizona, the Colorado men’s basketball team arguably played better during the two-game swing through Arizona than during any of its other Pac-12 trips this season. Inserted into the starting lineup for Thursday’s win at Arizona State, O’Brien acquitted himself well as the Buffs look to finish strong with three consecutive home games to complete the regular season, a run that begins on Thursday against USC (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“I appreciate (head coach Tad Boyle) showing trust in me. It’s always been a goal of mine coming from high school getting to start on a Pac-12 team like this,” O’Brien said. “I try to take as much opportunity as I could. I don’t want to toot my horn or anything, but it’s just my work ethic. I know I’m not the tallest guy. I’m not the biggest guy. I’m not the most athletic dude. I just try to go every time, and eventually I’m going to get a rebound or two.”
O’Brien made the second start of his career at Arizona State and responded with 10 rebounds, the second-highest mark of his career, and nine points. He had a near-double-double again on Saturday at Arizona, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds.
“I don’t think anybody should write us off or say we’re not confident anymore,” O’Brien said. “We’re not a team that’s just going to like give up. I certainly won’t give up. It’s obviously been a tough year just in terms of being consistent. But we’ve got three home games to look forward to, and we’re going to do our best to compete against three great teams that are above us in the Pac-12 standings.”
Saturday’s loss in Tucson left CU with a 7-10 mark in Pac-12 play, and just one more loss would clinch the Buffs their first sub-.500 mark in league play since they finished 8-10 in 2017-18. All three of CU’s final foes — USC, No. 4 UCLA and Utah — are either aiming for a conference crown or attempting to secure a top four spot, which comes with a first-round bye for the Pac-12 tournament.
“I thought we played well on this (Arizona) road trip,” Boyle said. “Obviously played well at Arizona State. I don’t think we played poorly (at Arizona). We didn’t play smart in the first half offensively, and we didn’t shoot the ball well. But I thought we competed. I think that the fight this team showed, they hung in there. Their competitiveness is there.
“We’re going home. We’ve got three at home. It’s time now to try to figure out how do we beat USC on Thursday? That’s all we have to concern ourselves with and think about.”