What went right: The Buffaloes turned in one of their best defensive efforts of the season, holding Cal to a .273 shooting percentage, the lowest by a CU opponent this year.
What went wrong: CU struggled against the top defense in the Pac-12, needing a strong second half just to finish with a .340 mark from the field. Cal also outrebounded the Buffs 42-39, though the Buffs owned the advantage on the glass in the second half.
Star of the game: Derrick White. The senior guard hit a critical 3-pointer late and did a little bit of everything for the Buffs, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
What's next: The Buffs begin the Pac-12 Conference tournament as the No. 7 seed and will play Washington State if the Cougars los to No. 3 UCLA Saturday night.
No one can say Derrick White didn't make the most of his limited time with the Colorado Buffaloes, right down to what likely was his final shot at the Coors Events Center.
White and Xavier Johnson put the finishing touches on a memorable Senior Day for the Buffs Saturday afternoon, with White hitting a critical 3-pointer in the final minute and Johnson leading all scorers with 19 points as the Buffs outlasted Cal for a 54-46 win in a defensive slugfest.
The victory allowed the Buffs to finish the Pac-12 Conference schedule with an 8-10 mark — a figure short of preseason expectations yet nonetheless solid on the heels of CU's discouraging 0-7 start in the league. CU finishes with the No. 7 seed for the opening round of the league tournament on Wednesday in Las Vegas and a likely first-round date against Washington State, assuming the Cougars lose late Saturday night against No. 3 UCLA.
If Washington State somehow pulls off the upset, the Buffs instead will play Stanford.
Saturday's victory also boosted the Buffs' chances of earning a bid to the NIT, though it remains uncertain if CU would get a home game. It was a devastating defeat for a Cal team that not only is fighting for NCAA Tournament relevancy, but also dropped out of the No. 4 slot (and the final first-round bye) for the league tournament.
"We've won eight out of 11, and that says something about this team's resiliency," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "You've got to win some close games. You've got to win some grind-it-out games like today. Again, the 0-7 start, we can look back at all the close calls that didn't go our way. This group's four possessions away, defensively, from being 12-6.
"But we're not. We're 8-10. You're never as good as you think you are when you look at your record, and you're never as bad as you think you are."
White's 3-pointer with 17.4 seconds remaining came from deep along the wing in front of the CU bench with the shot clock winding down. It counted as the highlight of a game-closing 10-3 run by the Buffs that also included four points from Johnson.
White finished with 17 points in the last regular-season home game of his one-year CU career following his transfer from Division II UCCS. White also recorded eight rebounds and four assists.
Johnson turned in a career-best 8-for-8 mark at the free throw line and also added six rebounds. George King scored only five points but grabbed eight of his nine rebounds after halftime, leading a charge on the glass that saw CU turn a 28-19 rebounding lead for Cal at the break into a 20-14 edge for the Buffs in the second half.
Two days after putting up 91 points against Stanford, CU's offense struggled against a Cal club that leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage. But the Buffs shot .474 after halftime after shooting just 25 percent in the first half, and after missing their first seven 3-point attempts they went 7-for-10 the rest of the way.
"These past two years being here at CU and being here in Boulder, it's been great getting to know these guys on the team and working with them every day," White said. "I wouldn't change anything."
COLORADO 54, CALIFORNIA 46
CALIFORNIA (19-11, 10-8)
Rabb 4-11 2-2 11, Rooks 2-7 4-8 8, Moore 0-6 0-0 0, Bird 3-8 4-5 11, Mullins 4-11 0-1 10, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Moute a Bidias 0-0 0-0 0, Okoroh 0-3 0-0 0, Coleman 2-6 2-3 6, Singer 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 15-55 12-19 46.
COLORADO (18-13, 8-10)
Gordon 0-1 0-0 0, White 5-11 4-8 17, G.King 2-5 0-2 5, Fortune 0-1 2-2 2, Johnson 5-13 8-8 19, Miller 0-4 0-2 0, Siewert 0-4 1-2 1, Walton 0-0 0-0 0, Collier 4-6 0-0 10, Akyazili 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Lombard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-47 15-24 54.
Halftime — California 25-22. 3-point goals — California 4-15 (Mullins 2-7, Rabb 1-2, Bird 1-4, Moore 0-2), Colorado 7-17 (White 3-5, Collier 2-3, G.King 1-2, Johnson 1-4, Brown 0-1, Fortune 0-1, Siewert 0-1). Fouled out — Singer. Rebounds — California 38 (Rabb 13), Colorado 35 (G.King 9). Assists — California 5 (Singer 2), Colorado 9 (White 4). Total fouls — California 20, Colorado 15. A — 8,392 (11,064).