Visits to Boulder from the Oregon Ducks tend to bring out the best in Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes.
Entering tonight Colorado owned a 4-0 record in Pac-12 play at the Coors Events Center against their rivals from the Pacific Northwest. That mark includes the epic 100-91 victory in January of 2014 over an Oregon squad who, then as now, arrived ranked 10th in the country.
Saturday night’s proceedings more than lived up to precedent.
“I think that’s the Colorado basketball team we all know and love that showed up tonight,” said head coach Tad Boyle.
Whichever gear the Buffs have been searching for this season appears to have been found, at least for a night. The energy and intensity that CU came out with, particularly on the defensive end, and maintained throughout the majority of the contest was something not yet seen from this year’s Buffs.
Colorado stormed out of the gate and proceeded to hit their first four three-pointers in succession staking themselves to an early lead, one they would hold onto until two minutes were left in the half, and served to put Oregon on notice early.
“I think that was huge, I don’t think Oregon was expecting that,” said George King who finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds. “We were able to ride that wave pretty much throughout the first half and then in the second half we kind of switched gears and defended really well.”
Beyond the hot shooting, it was a combination of sustained defensive pressure and activity in the passing lanes that carried the Buffs to the finish line. Colorado forced 16 Duck turnovers on the night and held Oregon to just 29% shooting from the field in the second half.
“Maybe the guys said enough is enough. I mean look, they did it” said Boyle. “It’s the players’ job to go out and execute what they’ve been told to do and tonight they did it to a ‘T’. They did it with energy, they did it with effort, and they did it for 40 minutes.”
The player of the game, on ‘Derrick Whiteout Night’ no less, was Derrick White. He finished with 23 points on 50% shooting from the field and went 3-4 from behind the line. Most impactful, however, was his takeover that began with just under 5 minutes remaining in the game that helped fuel a decisive 13-1 Colorado scoring run.
Following a Wesley Gordon layup that broke a 51-all tie White first drilled a deep 3 to put the Buffs up 5. Then, on the next trip down, he drove the lane, drew a foul, and converted the made layup into a three-point play. On the ensuing Oregon possession White was in the right place at the right time to pull down a defensive board, which he then pressed up the court quickly to find King down low with a dart of pass resulting in another three point play.
Just like that, in 1:59 of game time, the Buffs found themselves up 10 and in control.
“Players make plays down the stretch,” said Boyle. “He (White) made big time plays down the stretch for us and I can’t say enough about what he brings to this team.”
“Derrick was great tonight, he made plays down the stretch and some clutch shots,” added King. “I’m not sure if we win that game without him tonight.”
The win gives Colorado its third over a ranked team this season but just its second of the conference slate. It took the Buffs 22 games to arrive at this point, to play with the kind of urgency defensively that they and their coaching staff knew they were capable of.
There’s not much season left to turn around, but the win gives them something to point to as they work towards the conference tournament.
“The joy in that locker room, the togetherness in that locker room is something I think we can build upon,” said Boyle. “It’s not gonna be easy, we’re halfway through the conference season. The first nine games are in the rear view mirror and I’m gonna try not to think about them or talk about them, I want to look forward. I want our players to enjoy this moment because we just beat a heck of a basketball team.”
Colorado might finally have discovered that elusive missing piece that’s been confounding them throughout this disappointing campaign. All it took was a visit from Oregon for the Buffs to say enough is enough.
“It was a team effort. We all made big plays and we all guarded,” said White. “That’s the big reason we won this game.”