No. 4 Oregon opens Pac-12 with tricky game at Colorado
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The Colorado Buffaloes are knocking on the door of the Top 25. Thursday gives them a chance to get there as they play the best team in the Pac-12.
Colorado (11-2) jumps right into the conference slate by hosting No. 4 Oregon in Boulder, Colo. The Buffaloes are trying for their second straight home win over the Ducks, with last year's victory being one of the best of their season.
It also was a breakout game for Tyler Bey, who had 27 points and 10 rebounds in the 73-51 win on Feb. 2.
That win spurred an upswing for Colorado. The Buffaloes are 23-6 since that victory and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT last spring. This year they played Kansas tough on the road and beat a ranked Dayton team in overtime in Chicago on Dec. 21.
But the feeling is different when it comes to conference play, and coach Tad Boyle knows it.
"It's the start of league play so everybody is 0-0 right now," Boyle said in the Boulder Daily Camera.
"Everybody feels like they have a new lease on life. It doesn't matter what your nonconference record was. It's a new season. Zero and zero and we've got, I think, one of the most talented teams in the league coming into our building and a team that has got a lot of recognition nationally, and deservedly so. They've had a great nonconference (season)."
The Ducks (11-2) played a challenging nonconference schedule, with losses to now-No. 1 Gonzaga and North Carolina, then ranked sixth. Oregon has beaten a ranked Memphis team, full-strength Seton Hall and got its most impressive win by beating Michigan 71-70 in overtime in Ann Arbor on Dec. 14.
The Ducks are riding a five-game winning streak into Boulder after beating Alabama State by 39 on Sunday.
"We took a big step, a step in the right direction, but going on the road for the conference opener ... we're going to have to play a lot better," Oregon coach Dana Altman said after the win over the Hornets.
The Ducks have been one of the elite teams in the Pac-12 over recent years, with a trip to the NCAA Final Four in 2017 and nearly beating eventual champion Virginia in the Sweet 16 last season.
Oregon has four players averaging double digits in scoring, with senior guard Payton Pritchard leading the way at 18.5 points a game. Five-star freshman big man N'Faly Dante became eligible at the semester break and is averaging 8.0 points and 15.7 minutes in three games as he gets acclimated.
The Buffaloes have a nice mix of experienced players, starting with junior guard McKinley Wright IV, who is averaging 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game. Bey, a junior, is averaging 12.5 points and a team-high 9.4 rebounds a game.
Colorado is first among "others receiving votes" in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Even with the success to date, Boyle has tinkered with his rotation. He inserted senior guard Shane Gatling into the starting lineup in a 99-54 win over Iona on Sunday, and he will likely be on the floor at tipoff on Thursday.
"He's a senior. He's kind of been through it before. He's played in big games," Boyle said after Sunday's win. "He's not afraid of the moment, so to speak. Shane, he's doing some good things for us. We need him to play like a senior."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 1, 2020