PULLMAN, Wash. — Disappointed and embarrassed, the Colorado men's basketball team left Beasley Coliseum on Thursday night with its season on the ropes.
Coming in with no margin for error if they are to make a push for the NCAA Tournament - or even the NIT - the Buffaloes coughed up a late lead against last-place Washington State, falling 73-69.
"This was a pathetic performance by the Colorado Buffaloes tonight and extremely disappointing," head coach Tad Boyle said. "You lose to the last place team this team had won one game all year in the league. But kudos to (Cougars head coach Ernie Kent) and their players. They haven't given up and we let one get away tonight. I'm extremely disappointed."
Not since December losses to Colorado State and San Diego has Boyle left an arena feeling as down as he was Thursday, and with good reason.
CU (15-11, 7-7 Pac-12) came in riding a three-game winning streak, a stretch in which it played some of its best defense of the year. Against the Cougars, it was one of their worst defensive efforts, especially late.
A three-point play by freshman Dallas Walton - who had a great game, with a career-high 16 points and six rebounds - with 9 minutes, 42 seconds left gave the Buffs a 54-47 lead, but they could never pull away from the Cougars (10-15, 2-11).
"It was defense," Walton said. "We're a team that prides ourselves on defense and rebounding and we couldn't do that down the stretch and it hurt us.
"It was frustrating, because we were making the right plays on offense, but we just couldn't get a stop on defense. If we were getting stops, we could have separated that game."
Washington State scored on 15 of its final 21 possessions, with much of that damage being done by Malachi Flynn. The sophomore scored 21 of his career-high 30 points in the final 12 minutes of the game.
"If somebody gets 30 points, that's ball game," CU's Namon Wright said. "We can't ever let nobody score 30 points."
CU's defense was OK up to that point, but mainly because the Cougars helped them out a bit. Washington State, which shoots the 3-pointer more than any team in the conference, wasn't hitting them in the first 28 minutes, but had great looks. The Cougars then hit two big 3s in the final 6 minutes.
"There's only so many bullets you can dodge," Boyle said. "They made us pay when it counted.
"It's a helpless feeling on that bench when you can't get stops and we couldn't get stops down the stretch. Malachi Flynn was terrific. We couldn't guard anything. He was terrific tonight and had 30, and we didn't answer the bell. We had our chances to win this game and hats off to Washington State."
It was a blow to the Buffs, however. While they are likely a long shot for the NCAA Tournament anyway, this one damages whatever chance they had.
"It's tough, knowing that if we won this game, we'd have a better chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," said guard McKinley Wright, who had 16 points. "Now this game is a bad look on our resume losing to the worst team in our conference."
Perhaps worse than the loss was that CU didn't treat this like a big game. Namon Wright and McKinley Wright both said the Buffs lacked focus from the start.
"We didn't come to play tonight," McKinley Wright said. "We took them lightly just like we took Cal lightly (in a 68-64 win on Feb. 7). Damn near lost to Cal and tonight we lost."
That lack of focus had Boyle looking in the mirror, as his team left Pullman.
"For some reason tonight, we weren't mentally ready to play, and I have to look at myself as a coach: What did I do or what didn't I do to get this team ready?," he said. "I didn't do a very good job tonight. I own this just like the players have to own it.
"Really disappointing. I don't know what else to say other than that. It just kind of sums it all up."
WASHINGTON ST. 73, COLORADO 69
COLORADO (15-11, 7-7)
Walton 4-6 8-8 16, King 2-8 4-4 9, M.Wright 5-10 6-7 16, Nikolic 0-4 0-0 0, Bey 3-5 0-0 6, Siewert 2-4 1-1 6, Collier 0-5 4-9 4, N.Wright 4-9 3-6 12, Schwartz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 26-35 69.
WASHINGTON ST. (10-15, 2-12))
Cooper 4-5 0-0 8, Franks 4-12 5-8 14, Flynn 11-19 5-6 30, Skaggs 0-6 0-0 0, Daniels 2-7 4-5 10, Pollard 0-0 0-0 0, Chidom 0-0 0-0 0, Bernstine 2-5 1-2 5, Acquaah 1-3 0-0 3, Shpreyregin 0-2 0-0 0, Hinson 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 25-62 16-23 73.
Halftime — Washington St. 30-29. 3-point goals — Colorado 3-18 (Siewert 1-2, N.Wright 1-4, King 1-4, M.Wright 0-2, Collier 0-3, Nikolic 0-3), Washington St. 7-29 (Flynn 3-8, Daniels 2-6, Acquaah 1-1, Franks 1-6, Shpreyregin 0-1, Hinson 0-1, Skaggs 0-6). Fouled out — Cooper, Daniels, Collier. Rebounds — Colorado 36 (King 11), Washington St. 28 (Franks 8). Assists — Colorado 10 (M.Wright 6), Washington St. 9 (Daniels 4). Total fouls — Colorado 18, Washington St. 24.