What went right: CU outrebounded Cal 40-19 and held the Golden Bears to a .340 shooting percentage.
What went wrong: The Buffs committed a season-high 23 turnovers.
Star of the game: McKinley Wright. The sophomore point guard matched a career-high with four 3-pointers before finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds. Wright was 7-for-9 from the floor and 4-for-6 on 3-pointers.
What's next: The fifth-seeded Buffs advanced to Thursday's quarterfinal round and will face fourth-seeded Oregon State at 3:30 p.m. MT (Pac-12 Network).
LAS VEGAS — It was at the sort of outcome near and dear to coach Tad Boyle's heart.
At times his Colorado Buffaloes were a mess offensively in a matchup with Cal in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, balancing a decent shooting performance with a season-high turnover total. Yet the Buffs nonetheless forged a path to victory by defending well and dominating the glass.
In the end CU followed the March creed of simply surviving and advancing, posting a 56-51 win Wednesday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena. The fifth-seeded Buffs will face fourth-seeded Oregon State in the quarterfinals Thursday (3:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
CU committed a season-most 23 turnovers but doubled up the Golden Bears on the boards, outrebounding Cal 40-19.
"That was the epitome of winning ugly. That's probably an understatement," Boyle said. "Our program is built on defense and rebounding for a reason. It's for days like this, games like this, when the offense is not functioning the way we want it to function that we find a way to win a game by guarding and by rebounding. We did a tremendous job, and that's why we won today. Not necessarily because we deserved to win or played well enough offensively to win. Because we didn't."
CU improved to 20-11, earning the 10th 20-win season in program history and the sixth in nine seasons under Boyle. Combined with Arizona's loss in Wednesday's opening game, the Buffs also became the only team to win their first game in every conference tournament since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2012.
That streak nearly ended, however, thanks to the 23 turnovers that marked the most by the Buffs since they had 23 in a home win against New Mexico early last season.
CU led 28-22 at halftime and built a 10-point lead midway through the second half. Cal chipped away at that lead and got within 54-51 on a 3-pointer by Matt Bradley with 1 minute, 19 seconds remaining. There was much drama but little scoring from there, as the teams traded turnovers before CU point guard McKinley Wright launched a long, off-balance 3-pointer that splashed through the net at the shot clock buzzer.
The play seemingly gave the Buffs a six-point lead with 15.7 seconds remaining, but after a review the officials determined it was a shot clock violation instead. Bradley launched a potential tying 3-point attempt moments later that went awry, and CU's Tyler Bey capped a frustrating day in his native Las Vegas with two free throws to ice the win with 2.4 seconds remaining.
"I think we were rushing a lot of things tonight," Wright said. "We were anxious to get out and play our first round of the tournament. Twenty-three turnovers is too much. It's not us. We're thankful to get out of here with a win. We'll be better (Thursday), especially in taking care of the ball."
Wright shot the Buffs out of a ragged start offensively by knocking down three consecutive 3-pointers early in the first half, ultimately finishing with a season-high four 3-pointers that also matched his career high. Wright paced the Buffs with 18 points and seven rebounds, while fellow sophomore D'Shawn Schwartz put together a solid all-around game with 11 points and a career-best matching eight rebounds.
Bey went 1-for-6 and was charged with seven turnovers, but he still posted his ninth-straight double-digit rebounding total with 11.
"Twenty (wins) is a big number," Boyle said. "Before the season starts I look at the schedule and say, OK, can we get 20? I thought we could get more than that, but we have the opportunity to do that tomorrow. It used to be in college basketball you get 20 wins and you're in a Power 5 conference, you're in the tournament. It's not like that anymore.
"But I'm proud of these guys. They've shown great progress and I know they are hungry, and they're not satisfied with where we are right now. We just have to continue to get better, and we'll do that tomorrow."
COLORADO 56, CALIFORNIA 51
Sueing 4-8 0-0 10, Vanover 3-9 0-0 8, Bradley 4-12 6-6 17, Austin 2-9 5-7 9, McNeill 3-8 0-0 7, Kelly 0-1 0-2 0, Anticevich 0-0 0-0 0, Harris-Dyson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-47 11-15 51.
Battey 2-6 0-0 4, M.Wright 7-9 0-0 18, Gatling 2-8 0-0 5, Schwartz 4-6 0-0 11, Bey 1-6 6-8 8, Siewert 1-6 0-0 2, Kountz 3-5 2-4 8. Totals 20-46 8-12 56.
Halftime — Colorado 28-22. 3-point goals — California 8-22 (Bradley 3-6, Sueing 2-4, Vanover 2-7, McNeill 1-5), Colorado 8-20 (M.Wright 4-6, Schwartz 3-5, Gatling 1-6, Kountz 0-1, Siewert 0-2). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — California 19 (Bradley 5), Colorado 40 (Bey 11). Assists — California 7 (Sueing 3), Colorado 10 (M.Wright 3). Total fouls — California 14, Colorado 13. A — 9,748 (18,000).