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Defense may be turning a corner for CU Buffs men's basketball

Mar. 5—Always the sort of coach eager to preach defense, even amid an explosive season offensively, Tad Boyle has consistently professed a belief his team would take off when the defense did.

The Colorado men's basketball team may not quite be taking off defensively, but the Buffaloes might at least be turning a corner.

CU's four-game winning streak has put the Buffs in the driver's seat for a top-four finish in the Pac-12, which comes with a first-round bye at the league tournament next week. More importantly, the run has kept the Buffs alive on the NCAA Tournament bubble. CU still isn't where its head coach prefers defensively, but another solid effort at that end of the floor would be critical on Thursday as the Buffs visit Oregon (7 p.m. MT, ESPN2) for a crucial matchup for the Buffs' postseason goals.

The winner on Thursday will clinch third-place in the Pac-12.

"I still think we're in spurts defensively," Boyle said. "Sometimes it has to do with our offense. Everybody talks about defense and transition defense. Well, that has a lot to do with your offense. But I think offensively, we've definitely gotten a lot better. When we get our defense set, I'm feeling better about things.

"We've got two different lineups that we play. We play the lineup with Eddie Lampkin as a big guy, usually matching up against their big. And then we play a small lineup when Eddie's out of the game, and there we've got to do a little bit more switching, a little bit more double-teaming in the post. We've worked on both those lineups in practice and I think we're getting better defensively. It's still not the strength of this team. The strength of this team is offense — moving the ball and sharing the ball and shooting the ball. At some point, we're going to have to rely on getting stops. It might be Thursday night."

Boyle has expressed some frustration at the Buffs' transition defense, which has been under assault for much of the season by an average of 13.1 turnovers per game that leads the Pac-12. While the four-game win streak began with a double-overtime win at USC that featured a season-high 21 turnovers, the three wins at home included three of CU's best efforts on the turnover front in weeks. The Buffs committed a season-low four against Utah, committed 12 against California, and had just 12 again against Stanford, with a sloppy rash of five of them occurring in the final 6 minutes, 15 seconds when CU had the game out of reach.

Granted, the Buffs have played at home for the bulk of the current win streak, where CU has gone 16-1. But Stanford on Sunday arrived at the Events Center with the top 3-point mark in league games and finished just 7-for-28 from the arc.

Since the first half against USC, the Buffs have held their opponents in the past three and a half games (plus the 10 minutes of overtime at USC) to a .432 mark overall with a .244 percentage from 3-point range.

"Defense wins games. I think every one of us believes that," CU guard J'Vonne Hadley said. "We started off not so hot on defense. It showed in a couple of those losses that we should've won. But as of lately, we've been pretty locked in. I don't think any of us would say it's been for a full 40 minutes. We just have to put two full halves together."