BOULDER - The fog has lifted for Josh Scott and the clearing comes at a fine time for Colorado hoops. The basketball no longer feels like an enlarged cantaloupe in his hands. His low-post footwork is nearly back to normal and not to be mistaken for bad line dancing.
For a couple of weeks, the Buffaloes' gifted 6-10 freshman center had a rough go of it. On Feb. 16, an elbow belonging to Arizona State's 7-2, 250-pound Jordan Bachynski caught Scott squarely in the head. There was some conjecture in the Coors Events Center as to whether Scott's head also bounced off the floor when he went sprawling in the lane, but no confirmation will come from the bouncee.
"I don't remember anything about the play, nothing at all," Scott said.
But this much he does remember: CU lost the game 63-62 in overtime and he was lost for the next two games with a concussion. Because of the ASU game's physicality, CU coach Tad Boyle likened it to football on hardwood.
Of the early possession that resulted in his injury, Scott says he was "just trying to compete" and that Bachynski "didn't try to hurt me; I know that much. He was frustrated and that kind of stuff happens. It sucks, but it happens."
After about two weeks, the symptoms subsided, he passed the requisite tests for clearance and he was able to return last weekend at California.
But by his admission he was not all the way back.
"The ball felt really foreign," Scott said. "I could always tell when I hadn't picked up a basketball (in a while) because it just felt really weird. I was glad I had the two days (of practice) before, but it was still really weird."
In CU's 62-46 loss to Cal, Scott played 29 minutes, scoring four points and grabbing 11 rebounds. The four points were just under seven below his overall scoring average, the 11 boards were just over six above his seasonal mark.
"It was really difficult trying to come back and fit in offensively," Scott said, adding that when he recognized he was not going to be an immediate fit in CU's offensive sets he made up his mind to try and influence the game in another way. "And that's where those 11 rebounds came in."
Scott said the Buffs, who shot only 23 percent against the Bears, "had played two games without me and done a really great job. So I didn't really add anything offensively . . . the first time I had picked up a basketball was a couple of days before and that was the first time in two weeks."
Making his return in Berkeley at sea level "helped, but I definitely was not up to speed," he said. "It was a little bit of a problem trying to get my wind back. I just tried to compete and do my best."
The upside for the Buffs is that Scott has gotten progressively better in both conditioning and his normal post play. "I got my wind back, but I'm still improving with that," he said. "And I'm getting more shots up."
CU will need him at full-go for its final pair of regular-season games against No. 19 Oregon (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2) and Oregon State (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network). The Buffs are eyeing a sweep of both teams, having defeated the then-No. 19 Ducks, 48-47, and the Beavers two nights later, 72-68.
The win last month in Eugene represented CU's third win in four meetings against Oregon - all of the 'W's by one point. The others: 72-71 last season in Boulder and 63-62 in last season's Pac-12 Conference tournament. The only recent "runaway" was CU's 90-81 loss in Eugene on the last weekend of regular-season play last season.
In explaining CU's trio of one-point wins, Boyle said, "I don't know if it's matchups (or) style of play. I just think they're a tough, disciplined team, we're a tough, disciplined team. Sometimes it comes down to those games. They're a tough team to get away from because they're tough-minded and disciplined and well-coached."
After stressing mental toughness to his team all season, Boyle said the need is magnified this week: "When you play Oregon it's critical." Thursday's game "is going to come down to a box out here or a made shot there. Or taking a charge . . . we have to play with supreme mental toughness to beat Oregon. We were able to do that at their gym, at the Pac-12 tournament and here last year. The game at their place (CU's 90-81 loss), they got away from us a little bit. I've got a lot of respect for them."
Scott said the Ducks "compete and are really well-coached - just like us. They've got that same mental focus on defense. It's a grudge match almost."
Added sophomore guard Spender Dinwiddie: "I think it's just two hardnosed defensive teams playing each other, and that's the kind of game it produces. I don't think many of the games have been particularly high scoring. Each team has a will to win and we just fight every game."
In their first meeting with the Buffs last month, the Ducks were without freshman point guard Dominic Artis (foot injury). After missing nine games - Oregon went 6-0 with him in Pac-12 play, 5-4 without him - Artis returned last Thursday against Oregon State, scoring six points in 12 minutes off the bench.
Coach Dana Altman plans to work Artis back in slowly, possibly targeting next week's Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas to shift him back into the starting lineup. Jonathan Lloyd replaced Artis at the point, but Lloyd missed Tuesday's practice with what Altman said he hoped "was a 24-hour deal."
Boyle said Artis "makes a huge difference; he gives them an extra shooter on the floor that stretches your defense. He's a good player. You just look at their offensive numbers and their record with him and without him - it's pretty significant."
Thursday night's game is crucial for the Buffs as well as the Ducks. Oregon is 12-4 in league play (23-6 overall) and tied with UCLA for the Pac-12 lead. CU is 9-7 (19-9 overall) and tied with Southern California for fifth place. A No. 4 seed/first-day tourney bye is still within reach for the Buffs, but they'll need help to achieve it. The first step is theirs - defeating Oregon and OSU - then Arizona State needs to win at Arizona on Saturday.
Boyle said the Ducks are "coming in playing for a league title, we're playing for pride and seeding. That shouldn't matter; when the ball's tipped up it's time to hook it up, whether it's Oregon, Oregon State or whoever we're playing. It shouldn't be any different."
Despite the loss at Cal, CU's RPI remains in the No. 27-29 range, which helps keep the Buffs in consideration for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. But as Boyle & Co. found out two seasons ago, there are no guarantees. A sweep this weekend would help solidify their NCAA resume, as would at least one win in the conference tournament.
But Dinwiddie said the Buffs' focus is nowhere near Vegas. Rather, it's on "just winning the next game and what it means for our program to produce that type of consistency. That's really where our focus is now."
Boyle knows if it's anywhere else, things can unravel quickly.