LAS VEGAS — The Pac-12 Conference tournament is over for the Colorado Buffaloes. Whether the 2018-19 season is over remains to be seen.
After the Buffaloes bowed out in the semifinals with a 66-61 loss against Washington Friday night, CU head coach Tad Boyle made his case for his team's season to continue in the NIT. The Buffs will not learn their postseason fate until Sunday night.
While a bid to the 68-team NCAA Tournament field no longer is a possibility, the Buffs are squarely in the mix for a berth in the 32-team NIT.
Asked if his club deserved an NIT spot, Boyle's answer was direct.
"Yes. Especially if you look at what this team has done since January 31st. We have grown by leaps and bounds," Boyle said. "I know a lot of times you get judged by what you do in November in December. But I think especially with a young team, you see the growth these guys have made.
"There's 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament and 32 in the NIT. Are we a top-100 team in the country? Absolutely. No doubt in my mind. Now, it doesn't always work like that, because of how the automatic bids work. But yeah, I do think we've done enough."
The Buffs sport a 21-12 record, finishing fifth in the league during the regular season before advancing to the Pac-12 semifinals. Since a loss against Oregon State on Jan. 31, the Buffs have gone 10-3, with two of those losses occurring against Pac-12 regular-season champion Washington.
CU has competed in the NIT twice under Boyle. In his first season in Boulder the Buffs advanced to the NIT Final Four, setting the stage for three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and four in the next five seasons. CU also went to the NIT in 2017 but lost in the first round at Central Florida. Junior forward Lucas Siewert is the only active Buffs player who appeared in that game.
"I think something that has been kind of a staple of this team is how much we love each other," sophomore guard D'Shawn Schwartz. "There's something special between these guys. The more we can play together, we'll be happy to do it."
Bey bounces back
It was a tough first two games at the league tournament for Las Vegas native Tyler Bey. But the sophomore forward bounced back in a big way against Washington, posting his 15th double-double of the season with 22 points and 16 rebounds.
One day after boasting five players in double-figures during the quarterfinal-round win against Oregon State, Bey was the only CU player in double-figures against the Huskies. But the performance didn't dull the sting of defeat.
"I did play good, but me playing good and us losing, I still feel like I could've done a little better," said Bey, who also recorded two blocked shots and a steal. "I'm not really proud of myself because I didn't play as well as I wanted to this whole tournament. I wanted to win this game."
Fresh of collecting a number of awards early in the week — including the Pac-12 Player of the Week, the Pac-12 Most Improved Player award, and a spot on the All-Pac-12 first team — Bey scored only five points with seven turnovers in the first round win against Cal, though he did finish with 11 rebounds. Bey was plagued by foul trouble in the quarterfinal win against Oregon State, finishing with just eight points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.
Bey was particularly emotional after Friday's defeat, prompting further accolades from Boyle.
"The true sign to me of a high-character guy is a guy who is more happy for the team when they win, and he doesn't play well, than feeling good about himself when he does play well," Boyle said. "He played his heart out tonight and he's as down as anybody on the team."
Point guard McKinley Wright always takes pride in his defense, and on Friday he asked to take on UW guard Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 Conference's Player of the Year. Nowell scored 14 points, under his season average of 16.5, and went 6-for-15.
"I like the challenge of taking the team's best player," Wright said. "The last two times we played Washington I didn't start on Nowell. I went to the coaching staff and said I wanted Nowell. That's just who I am. I want to do whatever I can to help this team win."
For the first time in the tournament, injured freshman guard Eli Parquet dressed and went through pregame warm-ups with the Buffs, though he did not play.
Parquet has missed the past six games after suffering a hyper-extended left knee at practice on Feb. 28. Boyle said Parquet might have been available against Washington in an emergency situation but would prefer to get the freshman through a few practices before sending him on to the floor. So if the Buffs do indeed reach the NIT, there is a good chance Parquet will be back in the mix.
"He's getting closer," Boyle said. "I talked to the team doctor before the game and he felt like he's close. But he probably needs to test it out at practice. When you make decisions like that, you always have the student-athlete's best interests at heart."
CU went 21-for-26 at the free throw line Friday and went 48-for-65 (.738) during the tournament...With four assists, Wright improved his season total to 153, the eight-best season mark in CU history...Washington's 13 steals was the most by a CU opponent this season, topping the 12 the Huskies recorded against the Buffs three weeks ago in Seattle. Cal also had 12 steals against CU on Wednesday...UW guard Matisse Thybulle, a two-time winner of the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award and a candidate to win that same honor this season at the national level, increased his career steal total to 321. That ties Hall of Famer and former Oregon State star Gary Payton for the most in league history...The tournament's No. 1 seed has now advanced to the Pac-12 championship game in seven consecutive seasons.