BERKELEY, Calif. — On paper, the Colorado men’s basketball team notched a win in the tougher matchup of the nearly-annual two-game trip through the Bay Area.
The Buffaloes’ track record says otherwise.
CU picked up a huge road win on Thursday night, overcoming sub-par games from several starters to ride the hot hand of point guard KJ Simpson to a 73-70 win at Stanford. It was a stirring, gut-check sort of win for the Buffs, who trailed for most of the second half before prevailing at the end despite a 22-for-26 night for Stanford at the free-throw line.
Still, it was somewhat of a matter of course for CU in its Pac-12 Conference history at Stanford. The Buffs improved to 7-3 at Maples Pavilion since joining the league, winning for the third consecutive time at Stanford. On Saturday, the Buffs will look to complete a rare conference road sweep at Cal, which has struggled monumentally this season but has proven to be a frustrating host to CU.
“Pac-12 basketball on the road, you’d better be ready to play against everybody,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We’ve traditionally played well at Stanford. We’ve traditionally not played well at Cal. It’s time to reverse that. If we can get another win on the road, it gets us back where we need to be. We’re not going to take them lightly, I promise you that.”
While the Buffs have performed well at Stanford, the opposite is true of Cal’s Haas Pavilion. CU won there last year, securing a multiple-game road sweep for just the third time since joining the Pac-12 before the 2011-12 season. Yet Buffs teams with a clear talent advantage, particularly in recent seasons, have stumbled in Berkeley.
The 2019-20 CU team, which would have landed in the NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled, suffered an ugly late-season loss at Haas Pavilion against a Bears team that finished 14-16. The 2020-21 Buffs, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, lost in Berkeley against a Cal club that finished 3-17 in the Pac-12 and lost by 29 points in Boulder a month earlier.
CU is just 2-7 at Cal since joining the league.
“We can’t be all excited and happy about (Stanford). We have a lot of stuff we need to work on,” Simpson said. “We came in and Stanford was kind of struggling, but they got it going. It’s going to be the same thing with Cal. They’ve got really great players. A slow start, but we just have to be well-prepared and we can’t really focus on this (Stanford) win. This is a good win, but we have to get ready for the next one.”
It has been a tough run in Berkeley for Cal coach Mark Fox, with the program reaching new lows in the first half of his fourth season. The Bears have suffered home losses against UC Davis, Southern, Texas State and Eastern Washington. Through Thursday’s games, Cal ranked last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.402), 3-point percentage (.260), assists per game (9.4), scoring (58.0) and average rebounding margin (minus-2.1).
“We’re playing against a Cal team that’s struggling a little bit, but we can’t take them lightly,” CU forward Luke O’Brien said. “They’re a great team. They’re in the Pac-12 for a reason. If we can get them, we’ll have some really good momentum into the Oregon games (next week).”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at California Golden Bears
TIPOFF: Saturday, 4 p.m. MT, Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
TV/RADIO: TV — Pac-12 Network. Radio — KHOW 630 AM.
RECORDS: Colorado 9-5, 1-2 Pac-12 Conference; Cal 1-13, 0-3.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (263-160, 319-226 overall); Cal — Mark Fox, 4th season (36-71, 322-247).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (18.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.7 apg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (14.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, .523 field goal percentage); F J’Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, .529 field goal percentage). Cal — G Devin Askew, 6-3, Jr. (16.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 apg); C Lars Thiemann, 7-1, Sr. (12.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, .547 field goal percentage); G Joel Brown, 6-3, Sr. (6.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 apg).
NOTES: A win would give the Buffs their first six-game winning streak in nearly two years…Colorado is seeking just the fourth multiple-game road sweep in conference play since joining the Pac-12. The Buffs swept the Bay Area trip last year, technically posting a 3-0 trip with an added makeup date win at Oregon State on the front end of that trip. CU also recorded two-game road sweeps in 2018-19 (at UCLA, USC) and 2012-13 (at Oregon, Oregon State)… Tad Boyle’s 111 regular season Pac-12 wins ranks 19th in conference history…Simpson went 5-for-9 from the field and 8-for-10 at the free throw line and finished with what then was a career-high 19 points CU’s win last season at Cal…Despite Cal’s struggles, the Bears have been a solid perimeter defensive team, ranking third in the Pac-12 through Thursday with a defensive 3-point percentage of .305…After posting four of the five lowest turnover totals of the season during a four-game homestand that ended last week, the Buffs committed 16 turnovers at Stanford. In three true road games, CU has averaged 17.7 turnovers…The Buffs return home to host the Oregon schools next week, beginning with the Oregon Ducks on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2/U).