What went right: CU's defense was solid throughout, holding Cal to a .351 mark (20-for-57) from the field. The Buffs also committed just nine turnovers.
What went wrong: The Buffs endured a dreadful shooting start (1-for-19) and a subpar effort at the free throw line by their standards, featuring three misses on the front end of one-and-ones in the second half.
Star of the game: Dom Collier. The sophomore continues to display improved confidence as CU's point guard, recording 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and zero turnovers in 31 minutes.
What's next?: CU begins a two-game road trip at Oregon on Thursday, 7 p.m. MST.
Making just one of the first 19 shots rarely is a sign of good things to come.
Yet the Colorado Buffaloes made an exception to that rule in emphatic fashion on Sunday, overcoming a nightmarish start from the floor to pull away from Cal for a 70-62 victory in a Pac-12 Conference showdown at the Coors Events Center.
CU (17-5, 6-3 Pac-12) will take a three-game win streak into Thursday night's road match against No. 23 Oregon, and Sunday's win leaves the Buffs among five teams with a league mark of at least 6-3 in a crowded field atop the conference.
"I know six of our first seven shots were all jump shots," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "Part of attacking Cal is that you have to attack the paint. You might get some shots blocked ... but it puts pressure on their defense and gets them in rotations and help. And we weren't doing that with jump shots. We were letting them off the hook."
The Buffs fell behind 12-3 while opening the game by missing 18 of their first 19 shots. But a 3-point play from CU freshman Thomas Akyazili with 10 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the first half abruptly changed the momentum for the Buffs, who simply overpowered Cal the rest of the period. After the woeful start from the field, CU went 12-for-17 over the rest of the first half, outscoring the Golden Bears 34-11 to take a 37-23 lead into the break.
CU ultimately finished with a .379 mark from the field, going 21-for-39 overall after the frustrating start.
"We knew we weren't going to shoot the ball like that the whole entire game," CU senior Josh Scott said. "We came out and hit two threes that put us back in attack range, and from there on out we kept getting stops and scoring."
CU extended its advantage to 17 points on a Wesley Gordon 3-pointer early in the second half, but Cal kept chipping away at the Buffs' lead. Cal pulled within five points on four consecutive free throws from Jaylen Brown with just more than five minutes remaining, and a Brown 3-pointer with 1:56 to go trimmed CU's lead to 62-58.
CU, though, knocked down 10-of-12 free throws over the final 2:10 to keep Cal at bay, with four different players contributing to that mark. It wasn't the best free-throw performance (21-for-30) for a CU team that leads the Pac-12 in that category — with three misses on the front end of one-and-ones in the second half — yet the Buffs stepped up and hit them when it mattered most.
"That's something as a coach you have absolutely zero control over," Boyle said. "You can talk about it, which we don't. You can practice it, which we do. But it really comes down to the players stepping up and getting it done."
Sophomore point guard Dom Collier turned in another solid all-around game for the Buffs, finishing with 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and no turnovers in 31 minutes. It was the third time this season Collier enjoyed a game without a turnover, and he has committed just 10 over nine conference games.
Josh Scott led the Buffs with 18 points despite going 5-for-17 from the floor, while George King added 13 points. Scott went 8-for-8 at the free throw line and made four in a row over the final 1:40.
"I think that was the biggest thing for me coming into this year, just confidence and maintaining confidence," said Collier, who went 4-for-6 from the floor. "The last couple games I feel like I've been trying to just lead the team to win, and get us in our offense and defense."