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The CU men’s basketball team is sitting in an unfamiliar place with four games left in the regular season.
The Buffs sit in sole possession of third place in the Pac-12, a game and a half behind the University of California Bears. With two home games coming up against Cal and Stanford, CU looks to shock the nation by winning a Pac-12 title.
“We’re in the hunt for a conference championship, and Colorado basketball hasn’t been in that position for a long, long time,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “The way we got here is taking care of our business along the way. I think our guys are mature enough and smart enough to understand we can’t look ahead.”
Since winning the Big 8 title during the 1968-69 season, the Buffs have only been within two games of a conference lead three times. The last time was during the 1996-97 season, when they made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But before anyone can get excited about conference glory, the CU must get some wins at home.
The Buffs take on the Stanford Cardinal on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the Coors Events Center. Earlier this season in Palo Alto, Calif. the Cardinal dominated the Buffs, winning 84-64.
Senior guard Nate Tomlinson said the team has to play better overall if it’s going to beat Stanford this time around.
“We have to come out and do some things differently,” Tomlinson said. “Obviously play better defense, and rebound a lot better. They beat us by about 10 on the boards last time.”
Coach Boyle also emphasized rebounding with regards to Stanford, and he said he would like to see more physicality under the basket.
“They’re the second-best offensive rebounding team in our league,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re physical and get them boxed out because they are a physical team, and they are tall and athletic and strong, as well.”
On Sunday, the Buffs will take on the Pac-12-leading Cal. The Bears beat the Buffs 57-50 in Berkeley, Calif. on Jan. 12.
Despite the fact that this will be the Bears’ first conference trip to the Coors Events Center, it will not be unfamiliar territory for them. Cal played the Buffs in Boulder in the second round of last year’s National Invitation Tournament. The Buffs came out with a 89-72 victory, and they will be looking for a similar result on Sunday.
With a lot of returning starters from last year’s team, Tomlinson said the Bears will pose a tough test for the Buffs at home.
“They’ve got a lot of the same guys back,” Tomlinson said. “Jorge [Gutierrez] is obviously there, and they’ve Harper Kamp inside, so they’re not too different. They do the same things, and I think that’s what makes them good. They know what they do well and they do it.”
Lost in the hype of conference championships and tough games is the fact that Sunday will be the last regular season game for the Buffs’ seniors.
Tomlinson, forward Austin Dufault, guard Carlon Brown and forward Trey Eckloff will all be honored after Sunday’s game for their time spent with the Buffs.
Brown, who has played one season with the Buffs after transferring from the University of Utah where he helped his team win the 2009 Mountain West Conference tournament, said that this weekend will be a big deal for all of the seniors.
“I think it’s big for all of the seniors, especially Nate, A.D., Trey, seeing that they haven’t won a championship,” Brown said. “I just want to be any type of assistance I can, whether it’s scoring, passing, defending, rebounding. We just really need to make sure we take care of these two at home, and hopefully going on the road next week.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mark McNeillie at Mark.firstname.lastname@example.org.