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Road swing begins for CU Buffs club stuck in crowded middle mix in Pac-12 standings

After two straight wins, Buffs visit Oregon State on Tuesday

 University of Colorado Boulder’s Jabari Walker goes up on Utah’s Rollie Worster  during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 12, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado Boulder’s Jabari Walker goes up on Utah’s Rollie Worster during the Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 12, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Thanks to a few unexpected results across Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball on Saturday, there is a jumbled mess in the central portion of the league standings. And the Colorado Buffaloes are smack in the middle of it.

The Buffs put their recent three-game losing streak a little further into the rearview mirror and maintained some momentum heading into a demanding three-game road trip this week, which begins on Tuesday at Oregon State, by rallying past Utah for an 81-76 victory on Saturday at the CU Events Center.

Elsewhere in the conference, Cal stunned Oregon in Eugene. And Arizona State put a dent into Washington State’s NCAA Tournament aspirations by winning in Pullman. That left four teams in the middle of the Pac-12 standings with five to seven league losses, all of whom have played a different number of conference games — Washington (8-5), WSU (7-5), Stanford (8-7) and CU (7-7).

Although the Buffs’ makeup date on Tuesday at OSU (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network) begins a run of four road games out of the final six regular season contests, and CU still has a home date against No. 4 Arizona, the Buffs still have arguably the most favorable schedule in that mix. Four of those games are against the bottom four teams in the league. But as Cal, ASU and even the Utes showed on Saturday, success will not come easily for the Buffs or anyone else down the stretch.

“I look at every game as the biggest game of the year, because it’s the next game,” CU senior forward Evan Battey said. “It was a big-time win for us (against Utah), getting another win in the standings and good momentum going on the road. I’m happy, but we’ve still got work to do. We’ve still got to get better. But I’m happy.”

Following CU’s win on Saturday, head coach Tad Boyle cited his team’s defense — “We had too many breakdowns defensively for us to think we’re going to go on the road and beat anybody,” he said — as an area that needs shoring up after the Utes shot .435 (although just .320, 8-for-25, on 3-pointers). Oregon State shot just .383 in its 23-point loss at CU on Feb. 5, and in conference games the Beavers rank ninth in 3-point percentage (.325), although they rank fourth in overall field goal percentage (.437).

CU’s road trip continues on Thursday at Cal, which is in 10th-place in the standings but is coming off the impressive win at Oregon, and concludes on Saturday against a Stanford club also eager to play its way out of the crowded mix in the middle of the standings.

“I’ll say this after a win, I’ll never say it after a loss, but we’ve got a young team that’s learning on the fly,” Boyle said. “We’ve got one senior out there battling with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. They’re growing up, and it’s not easy to win games in February. We just won two, and now we go on a road trip. We’ve just got to be ready to go on Tuesday.

“My job is to make sure they’re mentally ready, emotionally ready. Their job is to make sure they’re understanding the game plan and taking it with them.”

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