The start of the year 2017 saw the Colorado Buffaloes head into Pac-12 Conference play with a 10-3 overall record. On Jan. 1, a trip to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes in CU’s first conference matchup opened a box filled with misery for the Buffs. Exactly three weeks after that 76-60 loss at Utah, the Buffaloes, a team with four seniors and a fourth-year junior, found themselves sliding down a slippery slope which saw the team lose its first seven conference games.
Colorado sat at 10-10 and 0-7 in Pac-12 play heading into a home game against the Oregon State Beavers. For those three weeks, it often seemed like senior guards Xavier Johnson and Derrick White were the only two Buffaloes players capable of scoring in a consistent manner. It’s worth noting, however, that four out of those seven games were losses of three or fewer points. Two came in overtime.
“[The players] know that we played well enough to win the games [but] we just didn’t finish,” head coach Tad Boyle said.
But since the unfortunate seven-game losing streak, the Buffaloes have won five of six games, including a major upset over the No. 10 Oregon Ducks at the Coors Events Center on Jan. 28. White dropped 23 points, with junior guard George King stepping up and snagging eight boards while scoring 13. Johnson was a rebound away from a double-double, scoring 10 and grabbing nine rebounds.
It was nice to see the Buffs’ starters all pitch in. The starting lineup of White, Johnson, King, senior forward Wesley Gordon and junior guard Dom Collier worked well. However, what will hopefully continue to help propel the Buffaloes to as many wins as possible in their final five contests before the Pac-12 tournament is that, in addition to the usual starters, Colorado’s bench is giving the team valuable minutes on the court.
“I know we haven’t won as many games as everyone wanted us to up until this point,” Boyle said. “But with that being said, from this point forward, I like the demeanor of this team, I like the work ethic of this team, I like how they practice. I think that Oregon game kind of gave us a little bounce in our step.”
The Colorado Buffaloes seem to have found some luck and are experiencing an upward trajectory late in the season. The Buffs supporting cast has helped to get the team to that point. Referencing Josh Scott’s graduation, Boyle had said during the preseason that he was not sure if the team could replace his leadership.
Having a team with four seniors and a fourth-year junior in King, it seemed obvious who the leaders would be. But too many games were lost in the middle of the season. The chances to have a potential great season ended in mid-January. However, now the seniors have stepped up, and with them, the team’s younger talent.
Freshman guard Bryce Peters has scored in double digits in four of his last six games. He started it off with a 15-point performance versus Oregon State on Jan. 26. Peters was electric in the team’s recent 81-49 bashing of Washington State last Sunday. His spin move, steal and behind-the-back drive to the net — which was promptly stuffed — were incredible athletic plays nonetheless.
Peters scored 12 versus the Cougars and has snuck up to second on the team with a 45.5 percent make rate from long range in Pac-12 games. He now also leads his fellow freshman teammates, forward Lucas Siewert and guard Deleon Brown, in minutes per game this year, averaging just over 15.
“The other guys put a lot of trust in me and I respect that,” Peters said. “It’s my job to come out there and show what I can do. These past couple games, I’ve just been performing to the best of my ability and think I can continue to do that.”
In four consecutive games, junior forward Tory Miller has scored in the double digits and has been a solid presence by the rim. He is taking smart shots and finishing on chances. Miller played well filling in for a benched Gordon at Cal, scoring 10 and grabbing nine boards.
Miller will be called on to step up next year at the forward position following Gordon’s graduation. For now, his ability to give the Buffaloes good minutes while continuing to score points will be a good boost for the team down the stretch. It will also do more to make a case that he’s capable of succeeding Gordon.
When told that Boyle had been impressed at Miller’s ability lately to stay out of foul trouble, he laughed.
“You can’t win all the physical battles like I thought I could as a freshman,” Miller said.
The Buffs have found a spark in a place that perhaps few imagined would be the case. Colorado’s five remaining games — a road trip this week against the Oregon schools, followed by a three-game homestand vs. Utah, Stanford and Cal — will define the team’s seeding in the Pac-12 tournament.
Losing out would almost guarantee a rematch with UCLA, Oregon or perhaps Cal. The Buffs have proven to be resilient, but just how many tricks up their sleeves Colorado has, that can lead them to wins against ranked opponents, remains to be seen. The odds could prevail, which would be a pretty miserable cap to the nice stretch that the team has put forth in recent weeks.
Colorado controls its own destiny. The Buffs will become what they make themselves.
The Buffs take on Oregon State in Corvallis, Oregon, this Thursday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. (MST)
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo