Heading into Thursday evening’s matchup between No. 16 Colorado and No.17 Oregon at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, CU hoops junkies doubtless took some time earlier this week to think of a regular season game with larger implications this millennia.
That’s not a hyperbolic statement — Colorado entering this game sitting solely in possession of first place in the Pac-12 Conference this far into the season is something that’s never transpired under head coach Tad Boyle, now in his 10th season leading the Buffs.
In fact, you’d have to go back to early 1969 to find the last time the Buffaloes (who would go on to win the Big Eight Conference title that year) were leading their conference past January in a given season.
Colorado before the game stood a lone game ahead Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. Win on the road in Eugene, where the Ducks have yet to lose in 2019-20, and gain a two-game cushion atop the conference standings while setting the stage for Boyle’s first-ever regular season conference title. Lose, and a dogfight for the top spot in the Pac-12 would likely ensue between these two squads down the stretch in league play.
For the Buffs (19-6, 8-4 Pac-12) on Thursday, it was the latter and it happened in unfortunate fashion as the Ducks rallied down the stretch and won, 68-60. At one point in the first half, Colorado had gone on a 20-0 run, holding the Ducks scoreless for nearly eight minutes. Colorado led, 35-26, at halftime but in the last 4:38 of the game, Oregon went on a 15-2 run, completely sucking the life out of CU’s offense.
The Ducks outscored Colorado 42-25 in the final 20 minutes of play, overcoming a meager first half of offense, a 20-point run allowed and just about every other adversarial item under the sun.
“Oregon deserved to win this game,” said Boyle after the loss. ‘They were the aggressor in the second half and that was the disappointing part…it wasn’t because of (our) effort. We didn’t execute and we didn’t play very smart.”
The Ducks led until the 8:30 mark of the opening half, when a layup via sophomore forward Evan Battey put Colorado up, 17-16. At that point, CU had scored seven unanswered points. A multitude of baskets later, including three consecutive three-pointers (one each from senior forward Lucas Siewert, senior guard Shane Gatling and junior guard D’Shawn Schwartz) handed the Buffs a 20-0 run.
By the time Oregon finally managed a basket after nearly eight scoreless minutes, Colorado had taken a 30-18 lead with 3:30 left in the opening half.
The Buffaloes came close to dealing the Ducks their first home loss of the season, but ultimately, they have no one to blame but themselves for letting Thursday night’s contest slip through their fingers. Look no further than the team’s 18 turnovers committed during the game. That’s the most the Buffaloes have had since Dec. 13 on the road at Colorado State. Oregon’s full-court press defense also did much to disrupt Colorado’s ability to move the ball throughout the night.
“Sheesh. I didn’t know that,” said junior guard McKinley Wright IV of the turnovers. “We’ve been good in that area as of late and for some reason tonight — I don’t know. We worked on it the last couple days in practice, we knew (Oregon) was going to press all night long…tonight we just didn’t come to meet passes, we were lazy with the ball (and) we let them slap down at the ball and strip us.”
Wright IV and junior guard/forward Tyler Bey both failed to score a single point for the Buffaloes in the entirety of the second half.
The second half for both teams were polar opposites compared to the first. Colorado started the game red hot, going 14-of-29 (48%) from the floor, while Wright IV and Gatling both tied for the team lead with eight points apiece. By the time both teams had headed to their locker rooms, CU led by nine.
However, as the final half progressed, Oregon’s press continued to take its toll on the Buffaloes, who on the night committed four shot clock violations.
“No awareness,” Boyle said. “You’re on a building that’s loud, you can’t hear the bench — you have to have awareness as an offensive player late in the (shot) clock. We’re a veteran team…we have to be aware of the shot clock.”
Schwartz and Battey shared the team lead in points on the night with 14. Gatling finished with 11. But unfortunately for the Buffs, most of their collective offensive magic came in the first half.
When the team needed points the most, shots wouldn’t fall and turnovers were plentiful. Conversely, Oregon got better as the game went on, highlighted by guard Will Richardson’s 17 points scored in the second half. He also nabbed nine boards while standout senior guard Payton Pritchard produced a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“Their two guards, Richardson and Pritchard, had nine offensive rebounds,” Boyle said. It wasn’t their bigs, it was their guards. That’s unacceptable.”
Bey managed a season-low four points and the Ducks scored 16 points off of CU turnovers.
“We feel that we gave the game away,” Battey said. “That’s how we feel. It sucks, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
The Buffaloes next take on the Oregon State Beavers Saturday evening at 8 p.m. MST in Corvallis. Last time these two teams met, in Boulder on Jan. 5, the Beavs mounted a second half comeback and defeated Colorado, 76-68.
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