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Men's basketball: CU Buffs focused on Cal, not March conjecture

Feb. 25—March is just around the corner.

It's the pinnacle of the college basketball season. Yet Tad Boyle isn't ready to talk about March, or the looming NCAA Tournament.

It's an understandable stance. His Buffaloes still have work to do in order to be part of the conversation on Selection Sunday, but that quest got off to a solid start on Saturday night as CU began the final homestand of the regular season with an 89-65 victory against Utah.

The win keeps CU squarely in the race for a top-four finish and the accompanying first-round bye at the Pac-12 Conference tournament, and it moved the Buffs up six spots to No. 35 in Sunday's NET rankings heading into the penultimate week of the regular season.

Boyle understands the stakes. Yet he also believes the only thing truly within his team's control is its focus on the next opponent, which in this case is a Wednesday night home date against California (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

In many respects, March has already begun for the Buffs, who might face the prospect of sliding off the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into each of the final four games of the regular season.

"I'll be honest with you. I was talking to a coaching friend of mine who's not in the business anymore (on Friday) and I think too much emphasis is put on the NCAA Tournament," Boyle said following Saturday's win. "They start talking about it November. I know our guys are aware of it. And I'm aware of it. We have KenPom ratings and NET ratings and all that stuff. I still don't understand the NET, and it's been favorable to us.

"I just think it's talked about too much. We've got Selection Sunday. We know when it is. This is a long season. Everybody's got 31 regular season games. We've got four left. How we play down the stretch is going to determine what our chances are. I'm not trying to be naïve and stick my head in the sand, but the key for me as a coach, you just want to make sure your players, you're getting better, you're improving."

CU (18-9, 9-7 Pac-12) moved into a tie for fourth-place in the league standings with UCLA following the Bruins' home loss on Saturday against USC, although UCLA owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with CU thanks to a win in the teams' only matchup on Feb. 15. Both teams are just one game behind Oregon (10-6 Pac-12), which lost on Saturday at Cal and also lost in Boulder on Jan. 18.

The Buffs, 14-1 at the Events Center this season, have the most favorable schedule among that trio of teams, with home dates against the Bay Area schools followed by a March 7 date at Oregon likely to loom large in CU's postseason fortunes. The Buffs then end the regular season with another chance to make road amends at last-place Oregon State.

UCLA visits the Washington teams this week before finishing at home against the Arizona teams. Oregon hosts rival OSU and visits No. 4 Arizona this week before hosting CU and Utah.

"We're not oblivious to it. But I think the main thing is just taking it game-by-game," CU guard KJ Simpson said. "We can't focus on anything ahead right now. When you start doing that, that's when you lose easy games that you should be winning, or close games that you should be winning. We just want to take it game-by-game. So the next opponent is who we focus on. At the same time, we understand what's at stake and we want to take advantage of our opportunities."