The Colorado men's basketball team had been in a similar position before. In fact, it was just a few days earlier.
Against USC last week, the Buffs were locked in a 58-58 tie with just over eight minutes remaining before the Trojans reeled off a 17-4 run that sent CU to its third consecutive loss. The Buffs were in a near-identical situation Sunday facing a two-point deficit with about eight minutes remaining, yet this time it was CU that took control.
The Buffs broke open a close game by scoring 17 of 18 points, paving the way for an 80-76 win against UCLA in the final regular-season home game.
"Coach (Kim) English made the comment coming out of the eight-minute media timeout," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "He said, 'This is where we were against USC at the eight-minute media timeout. Anybody's game.' But we made the plays, both offensively and defensively, down the stretch. Players make plays, and that's the bottom line. In tight games, when it is anybody's game, players make plays. And our guys made the plays tonight. Against USC on Wednesday, USC made the plays.
"It's a good feeling when your guys are doing what you know they're capable of doing."
The game-breaking 17-1 run began on a 3-pointer by Lazar Nikolic, which ended an 0-for-7 streak by the Buffs and also was the only field goal of the game for the freshman guard. Seniors Dom Collier and George King did most of the damage from there, scoring five points apiece during the run. McKinley Wright turned in the other two field goals during the burst, including a fast-break layup sparked by a blocked shot from King.
"That (Nikolic) shot and George's defensive block were kind of the two plays of the game, if you will, because of the timing of them," Boyle said.
Earlier this weekend Boyle offered his thoughts on the Yahoo Sports report implicating a number of collegiate players and programs in a sweeping FBI investigation that has dominated headlines throughout the 2017-18 college basketball season.
Boyle's reactions occurred before the fallout from Friday night, when ESPN reported that Arizona coach Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap allegedly arranging a $100,000 payment for 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton with ASM Sports representative Christian Dawkins, who was one of the figures arrested in the FBI's initial round of arrests last fall.
When asked about the latest on Arizona's situation, Boyle parsed his words a little more carefully while still reiterating the FBI investigation is taking the college game to new lows that have to be addressed.
"I've got my thoughts and I've got my beliefs. They haven't changed much since the beginning of the season," Boyle said. "I'm in favor of due process. I'm a proponent of innocent until proven guilty. There's a difference between getting accused of something and being arrested for something. Just because you're arrested doesn't mean you're guilty of something. But usually when the FBI comes in and arrests somebody...they still have their due process. They still are innocent until proven guilty. But to me, that's unheard of in our sport. Having people accused of stuff is not new. I haven't seen any video I haven't heard any recordings. But I saw four assistant coaches' pictures getting handcuffed by the FBI. To me, that's a different deal."
Unlevel playing field
Among the players listed in a Yahoo Sports report published Friday morning who allegedly received improper benefits were current Pac-12 rivals Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright from USC, along with former Pac-12 standouts Kyle Kuzma (Utah) and Markelle Fultz (Washington), both of whom are rookies in the NBA.
Over the past few years, Boyle's Buffs have gone 0-11 against those three players. That mark improved to 1-12 when Ayton was added to the list following the Friday night ESPN report alleging a payment of $100,000 arranged for him by Miller.
In the case of the Boyle's Buffs, it is evidence that cheating pays off. Still, CU's leader refused to play that card when informed of his team's record against those players embroiled in the unraveling scandal.
"We were 0-11 against (Fultz, Kuzma, and USC) because those guys are good players and we haven't played well," Boyle said. "It's not that we're not good enough to beat them. We haven't played well enough to beat them."
"That's ludicrous, that's all I've got to say on that. That's crazy. Not everyone is getting paid."
— UCLA coach Steve Alford, responding to comments made by former Bruins star and Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball that everyone in college basketball is getting paid.
CU's win locked it into the eighth through 10th seed for the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The most likely finish for the Buffs is either eight or nine, with a 10th-place finish requiring a loss by CU at Utah combined with Oregon State winning twice on the road against the Washington schools...The Buffs finished the home schedule with an average attendance of 7,449, the lowest figure since Boyle's first season in 2010-11 (7,014)...Dallas Walton recorded seven rebounds after grabbing just one over 50 minutes in the previous two games...Former CU assistant and current University of Denver head coach Rodney Billups sat courtside on Saturday...CU's 14 made 3-pointers against UCLA was its most in one game since the Buffs hit 17 against Oklahoma State on Jan. 30, 2005...In addition to CU's four seniors, the Buffs honored senior team manager Remi Marder before Saturday's game.