Despite a disappointing road trip in Washington, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team is still confident that it can finish in fourth place in the Pac-12, giving them a first round bye in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
After falling 76-74 to Washington State and 64-55 to Washington last week, the Buffs currently enter the weekend in a three-way tie for seventh place with Arizona and UCLA. With just three games left in the regular season, CU is two games behind fourth-place Utah, and the Buffs will need a considerable amount of help from other teams in the conference to surpass them.
While the odds aren’t in its favor, Colorado is still making it a goal to get a top-four seed.
“That first bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, that’s big for everybody,” junior guard Shane Gatling said after practice on Wednesday. “We’re doing all we can to get in the top four, so we’re going to take it game by game. We have three games left and we hope some teams lose, some teams win. That’s just how it goes but we’re getting that top-four spot.”
Gatling’s confidence is a welcomed sight for the Buffaloes after two straight losses, and it represents the tough-mindedness head coach Tad Boyle has instilled in them throughout the season. While he didn’t predict that they’d get fourth place, sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV, echoed his backcourt partner’s desire to get a bye.
“We would love to have a bye, but it is what it is, and we’ll keep competing,” Wright said following practice. “Wherever we end up in Vegas is where we’re going to take it and we’re going to play.”
Colorado does have an edge heading into the final two weeks of the season. The Buffs will have home-court advantage, playing the remainder of their schedule at the CU Events Center. The Buffaloes are 10-2 at home this year and currently have a three-game win streak at their friendly confines.
CU has consistently been a better team in Boulder this year, averaging 81.4 points per game compared to 68.7 on the road. Besides Stanford, the Buffaloes are the only team vying for the fourth seed that gets to stay home for the rest of the season. The players are prepared to take advantage of it.
“It’s hard to beat us here,” Gatling said. “We’ve lost here before but it’s hard to beat us here. The fans get involved and they get us involved. We feed off their energy and they feed off ours. So, I think it will be pretty tough to beat us these past three games.”
If the Buffs want to defy the odds and earn a bye, they’re going to have to start by winning out. Losing just one of their next three would eliminate them from potentially finishing fourth. If that happens, everything is out of Colorado’s control and all the Buffs can do is root for at least one loss by Stanford, one loss by Arizona and for the Utah Utes to drop their remaining three games.
However unlikely those scenarios might be, with March just around the corner, CU could potentially have some madness go its way.
Now before any of that can happen, the Buffaloes must take care of business in their next game against Utah, a team they know well after losing to them in Salt Lake City, 78-69, back in January. The Buffs struggled on both sides of the ball that game. They committed 11 turnovers, nine of which were steals, and had five shots blocked inside.
Defensively, they allowed Utes senior guard Sedrick Barefield and freshman forward Timmy Allen to each score over 20 points.
Utah is one of the best shooting teams in the conference, they’re tied for first in field-goal percentage at 49.6 percent and they rank second in three-point shooting at 38 percent. Wright, who did not play in the game in Utah due to a shoulder injury, knows they’re going to have to limit their production from three.
“We got to run them off the line,” Wright said about preparing for Utah. “They got a lot of great shooters, a lot of guys who can light it up any given night. We’re locked into the scouting report, so we’ll do our best job running them off.”
One player Colorado has to contain is Barefield, who is coming off a win over Washington State where he scored 33 points, tying his season-high. Barefield is averaging career highs with 16.7 points per game, four assists, and an impressive .401 shooting percentage from behind the arch.
On the injury front, CU could be catching a major break with Allen being listed as questionable after missing Utah’s past two games with a back injury. Allen is the Utes’ second leading scorer with 11.8 points per game, making it that more important for the Buffs to limit the production of Barefield.
Colorado and Utah tip-off at CU Events Center on Saturday, March 2 at 4 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Griffin Rucker at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GriffinRucker.