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Uneven start to Pac-12 play could be cured for CU Buffs in showdown against Oregon

Jan. 17—The first three weeks of the Pac-12 Conference schedule have been too erratic for a Colorado men's basketball team still aiming to play a significant role in the league race.

Oregon, much like the Buffaloes, limped into conference play while dealing with injuries to key personnel. The Ducks, though, have been the surprise team of the early portion of league play. Meanwhile, the Buffs, who dealt with key injuries for more than a month, are hoping playing a second consecutive game with the top seven players of their rotation leads to improved consistency as they attempt to re-set their conference trajectory on Thursday night in a key matchup against the Ducks at the CU Events Center.

At 5-0, Oregon is the only Pac-12 team with an unbeaten conference record. At 3-3, the Buffs have performed below expectations so far, but a return to health combined with a win on Saturday against USC that snapped a three-game losing streak has them eyeing what would be a critical win against an Oregon program that has lost 11 of its 12 games at CU.

"I'm glad everyone's back. Everyone's healthy. So we've just got to get in synch a little bit," CU wing Luke O'Brien said. "I think the first half of USC we were kind of just out of synch. We were able to turn that around in the second half. I think the guys that were playing when people were injured got better, too. So that's always a plus. With the guys that were injured coming back, we were out of synch a little bit. But we'll get that back for sure."

CU goes into the matchup still leading the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.501), 3-point percentage (.390) and free throw percentage (.766), but it has gotten to the stage of the season in which some of those numbers can be deceiving. The Buffs compiled the bulk of those statistics against overmatched competition at home during nonconference play, while the Ducks are the team that has turned it on since the start of the Pac-12 schedule.

Although it remains a only a six-game sampling for the Buffs within the Pac-12, in conference games CU began the week ranked only sixth in field goal percentage (.452) and eighth in 3-point percentage (.352). Oregon, meanwhile, ranks sixth overall with a .472 field goal percentage and fifth with a .367 3-point mark but, through their first five conference games, the Ducks ranked third in field goal percentage (.479) and second in 3-point percentage (.417).

The Ducks also have shot just .688 this season at the free throw line, ranking 10th among Pac-12 teams. Yet in league games Oregon has posted a Pac-12-best .750 mark.

The Ducks have leaned heavily on a pair of freshmen big men in Kwame Evans Jr., who has assumed the primary post spot with N'Faly Dante sidelined by a knee injury for most of the season, and Jackson Shelstad, who has been one of the most consistent rookies in the conference so far.

"I've just seen growth," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "They've been playing a lot of freshmen. They've had injuries, like we've had injuries. You just see a team that maybe was really young, with Kwame Evans and Jackson Shelstad and some newer players, who were still trying to adjust to college basketball because they're freshmen. Now they're (16) games in. They're figuring it out. They're starting to play better.

"They're well-coached. They know what they do. They do what they do and they do it well."

Oregon Ducks at CU Buffs men's basketball

TIPOFF: Thursday, 8:30 p.m., CU Events Center.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1/KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Oregon 13-3, 5-0 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 12-5, 3-3.

COACHES: Oregon — Dana Altman, 14th season (334-143, 744-386 overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 14th season (284-177, 340-243 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Oregon — G Jackson Shelstad, 6-0, Fr. (14.6 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.6 rpg, .438 3%); G Jermaine Couisnard, 6-4, Sr. (13.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.6 apg); G Kario Oquendo, 6-4, Sr. (10.4 ppg, .514 FG%, .405 3%); F Kwame Evans Jr, 6-9, Fr. (9.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg); G Brennan Rigsby, 6-3, Jr. (8.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .510 FG%, .462 3%). Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, Jr. (19.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.2 apg, .514 FG%, .462 3%); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Sr. (15.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, .520 FG%); G Cody Williams, 6-8, Fr. (14.1 ppg, 3.46 rpg, .560 FG%); F J'Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Sr. (10.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, .567 FG%); C Eddie Lampkin Jr., 6-11, Sr. (10.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .534 FG%); G Julian Hammond III, 6-2, Jr. (8.7 ppg, .500 FG%, .438 3%); G/F Luke O'Brien, 6-8, Sr. (6.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg).

NOTES: Oregon has won six consecutive games and has gone 9-1 since the start of December. ... CU held Oregon to 41 points in a home win against the Ducks last year. It was the lowest scoring total in Altman's tenure at Oregon. ... Da Silva went 11-for-17 in that game with 30 points, which remains a career-high. ... Oregon has won all three of its true road games this season, posting a road sweep against the Washington schools two weeks ago and also winning at Florida A&M on Nov. 20. ... The Ducks welcomed back forward N'Faly Dante during Saturday's home win against California. A first team All-Pac-12 selection last year, Dante had been out since the season opener due to a knee injury. Against Cal, Dante came off the bench to go 3-for-8 with eight points and two rebounds in 17 minutes. ... Former Buffs guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, in his second season at Oregon, has averaged 7.7 points and 2.6 assists with a .333 3-point percentage in 14 games this year. ... Shelstad, an Oregon native, has averaged 16.8 points through his first five conference games while going 10-for-17 (.589) on 3-pointers. ... CU concludes its three-game homestand on Saturday against Oregon State (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network).