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Oregon opportunity a huge one for CU Buffs men's basketball

Mar. 6—If the Colorado men's basketball team manages to see its March push all the way into the NCAA Tournament, the Buffaloes will have one key dynamic going for them.

CU will be battle-tested after living, and possibly surviving, the final few weeks of the season in elimination mode.

The Buffs begin the final weekend of the regular season with a key opportunity on Thursday night at Oregon. The winner will claim third-place in the Pac-12. Even in the event of a defeat, CU still would clinch fourth and a first-round bye at next week's league tournament with a win on Saturday at Oregon State.

Yet the stakes are much bigger for the Buffs. Squarely in bubble territory for the NCAA tourney, CU's final Pac-12 matchup in Eugene represents the final regular season opportunity for the Buffs to add a second Quad 1 victory to their resume. The lone Quad 1 win, at Washington on Jan. 24, remains so tenuously. If the Huskies (No. 71 in Wednesday's NET) drop below 75, that becomes a Quad 2 game (UW finishes the regular season on Thursday night at No. 18 Washington State).

CU head coach Tad Boyle understands the situation. A win in Eugene won't necessarily tip the tournament scales in the Buffs' favor. But a defeat would push them closer to tournament elimination. As his club prepared for its final conference visit to a place where he began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant in 1994, Boyle reiterated a recent theme in saying the team's focus remains intent on the next opponent, not the bubble watch.

"We don't even talk about it. I'm not feeling it," Boyle said. "I just want to go out and play as good as we can. We know that Oregon's a good team. They're a talented team. They're a team that can really get out in transition and put points up.

"At home, they're an explosive offensive team. Much like Stanford, much like Cal, we have to guard them. And the best way to guard them obviously is to obviously not let them get out in transition. Get our defense set and locked in. If we do that, we'll have a chance."

The Buffs, who finished 16-1 at the Events Center after going 3-0 during the final homestand, topped Oregon 86-70 at home on Jan. 18. While the Ducks lost former CU guard Keeshawn Barthelemy to a season-ending injury against Arizona on Jan. 27, the Buffs in general and center Eddie Lampkin Jr. in particular will face a different challenge in Oregon forward N'Faly Dante.

A first team All-Pac-12 selection last year, the 6-foot-11 Dante was only in his second game back from a knee injury that had sidelined him since the season opener when the Ducks visited Boulder seven weeks ago. Dante recorded just seven points and five rebounds in 19 minutes at CU, but he is averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds overall. In the past eight games, Dante has averaged 15.4 points and 9.1 rebounds.

"Dante, he was just kind of coming back when we played them," Boyle said. "Now he's in the groove. He's really playing well."

For a club with holes in its postseason resume, a CU win in Eugene could start patching two of them, namely the lack of Quad 1 victories and a road mark that stands at 2-7, although the Buffs' most recent road game was a double-overtime comeback victory at USC.

Like most Pac-12 venues, Oregon hasn't been friendly to the Buffs. CU is just 2-8 at Oregon in the Pac-12 era, losing six straight before breaking through in 2022 in a win powered by a double-double from soon-to-be Oregon-based pro Jabari Walker, 15 points from current senior Tristan da Silva and, naturally, 19 points from Barthelemy.

CU suffered a hard-fought seven-point loss at Oregon last year but da Silva put together another big game, going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers with 23 points, four rebounds and three steals.

"Oregon's playing great basketball. Along with Oregon State, it's a tough road stretch," CU guard KJ Simpson said. "But we just have to keep playing the same way that we would play (at home). We did a great job closing out home. We were 16-1. We just have to keep playing with that same mentality, same approach."

CU Buffs men's basketball at Oregon Ducks

TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m. MT, Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.

TV/RADIO: ESPN2/KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 20-9, 11-7 Pac-12 Conference; Oregon 19-10, 11-7.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 14th season (292-181, 348-247 overall); Oregon — Dana Altman, 14th season (340-150, 750-393 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, Jr. (19.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.8 apg, .496 FG%, .462 3%); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Sr. (16.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, .480 FG%, .378 3%); G Cody Williams, 6-8, Fr. (13.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .590 FG%, .457 3%); G J'Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Sr. (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, .563 FG%); C Eddie Lampkin Jr., 6-11, Sr. (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, .557 FG%); G Julian Hammond III, 6-2, Jr. (7.4 ppg, .400 3%); G/F Luke O'Brien, 6-8, Sr. (6.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .403 3%). Oregon — G Jermaine Couisnard, 6-4, R-Sr. (15.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.9 apg); C N'Faly Dante, 6-11, Sr. (14.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, .641 FG%); G Jackson Shelstad, 6-0, Fr. (12.3 ppg, .352 3%); G Jadrian Tracey, 6-5, R-Jr. (8.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .368 3%); G Kario Oquendo, 6-4, (8.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .379 3%); F Kwame Evans Jr., 6-9, Fr. (7.9, 5.0 rpg).

NOTES: CU dropped one spot to No. 31 in Wednesday's NET rankings. ... Williams (ankle) and Hammond (knee) remain questionable. Williams has missed the past two games. Hammond has missed the past four. ... The Buffs have shot at least 50% in five consecutive games for the first time since early in the 1994-95 season. ... Hadley has averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds with a .622 shooting percentage (23-for-37) during the Buffs' four-game winning streak. ... Williams went 10-for-23 with a game-high 23 points during CU's home win against Oregon on Jan. 18. Simpson posted 22 points, five rebounds and five assists while da Silva added 13 points and eight rebounds. ... In Pac-12 games, CU leads the league in 3-point percentage (.392) and has climbed to second in defensive 3-point percentage (.336). ... Oregon is 12-2 at home. ... Regardless of the Buffs' results this weekend, CU will finish in the Pac-12's top four if both Utah (also on the Oregon trip) and UCLA (hosting the Arizona teams, beginning Thursday against No. 5 Arizona) suffer at least one more defeat. ... CU completes the regular season on Saturday at Oregon State (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network).