John Locher / Associated Press
John Locher / Associated Press
What went right: The Buffs started fast and never slowed down, committing only 10 turnovers while notching 17 assists on 30 field goals.
What went wrong: Very little. Foul trouble slowed the effectiveness of starters Wesley Gordon and Dom Collier, but Collier’s limited minutes could be a blessing in disguise with the 24-hour turnaround before the quarterfinals.
Star of the game: George King. The redshirt sophomore went 5-for-8 overall, 2-for-3 from 3-point range, and 5-for-6 at the free throw line while leading the Buffs with 21 points.
What’s next?: The Buffs will take on fourth-seeded Arizona in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 3:40 p.m. MST.
LAS VEGAS — During the short turnaround following the Colorado Buffaloes’ nightmare of a regular season finale, head coach Tad Boyle stressed the importance of putting together a full 40-minute game.
It sounds like a rather obvious cliché. Yet anyone who has watched the Buffs routinely struggle down the stretch of games they previously had well in control understands such matters are never a given with this particular club.
That changed on Wednesday. Playing on the biggest stage yet this season, the Buffs put together perhaps their most complete effort of the year, routing Washington State 80-56 in the opening round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
The fifth-seeded Buffs (22-10) will take on No. 4 Airzona in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 3:40 p.m. MST.
“For the most part, we made them work for everything they got,” Boyle said. “That’s the biggest thing — don’t give them anything easy, and take care of the basketball. That’s been a big problem for us at times this year. When you have 10 turnovers, that’s a manageable number. And 17 assists to go with it. Our guys really shared the ball and I thought played unselfishly offensively.”
Any thoughts of the Buffs suffering a residual hangover from Saturday’s late meltdown at Utah were quickly put to rest, as a 10-2 run in the opening minutes gave the CU a lead it never relinquished.
Washington State remained within five points with 8 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the half, but CU outscored the Cougars 20-6 the rest of the way to take a 41-22 lead into the break.
Redshirt sophomore George King, who struggled to a 1-for-7 mark at Utah, played a key role in the opening salvo, connecting on five of his first six shots and scoring 17 of his game-high 21 points before halftime.
King finished 7-for-12 overall with a 2-for-3 mark from 3-point range. He also went 5-for-6 at the free throw line and was responsible for just one turnover in 23 minutes.
“It’s a great feeling, especially after being in a slump the last couple games,” King said. “It’s a little bit of weight off my shoulders when finally one goes in. I don’t credit my performance to that (first) jump shot, but it did help for sure.”
King’s eruption — it was his seventh 20-point game of the season — paced the Buffs, but it was an impressive team effort overall. The Buffs received 37 points off the bench, including 13 from Josh Fortune. Fortune knocked down three 3-pointers and also went without a turnover in 22 minutes.
Reserve forward Tory Miller turned in a second consecutive inspired performance with eight points and seven rebounds, while freshman guard Thomas Akyazili put together a lengthy stat line of seven points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal, a blocked shot, and no turnovers in 21 minutes.
Leading scorer and rebounder Josh Scott was limited to six points and five rebounds, but he never forced a bad play and repeatedly found open teammates while matching a career-high with five assists.
“To me, Josh Scott was so good for us tonight because he played so unselfishly,” Boyle said. “He had five assists and no turnovers. He could’ve had nine or 10 assists because we missed some jump shots on the inside-out we played with Josh.
“But Josh has really played unselfishly. He didn’t finish like he’s capable, and he knows that. We played through him and he demands so much attention that he makes life easier for these other guys. That’s really what team basketball is all about.”
WASHINGTON ST. (9-22)
Iroegbu 5-14 2-3 13, Callison 0-2 3-4 3, Hawkinson 3-9 2-3 8, Johnson 2-11 7-7 11, Izundu 1-2 0-2 2, King 1-3 0-1 2, Suggs 1-3 1-2 3, Redding 1-3 0-0 3, Daniels 1-2 0-0 3, Longrus 1-1 0-0 2, Franks 0-0 0-0 0, Boese 0-0 0-0 0, Clifford 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 19-54 15-22 56.
Gordon 1-5 0-0 2, Talton 3-6 1-1 8, Collier 2-3 0-0 6, King 7-12 5-6 21, Scott 3-8 0-0 6, Akyazili 3-6 0-0 7, Stalzer 0-0 0-0 0, Fletcher 2-6 2-2 6, Lombard 0-0 0-0 0, Guzonjic 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 3-6 2-2 8, Brady 1-1 0-0 3, Repine 0-0 0-0 0, Fortune 5-13 0-0 13. Totals 30-66 10-11 80.
Halftime — Colorado 41-22. 3-point goals — Washington St. 3-13 (Daniels 1-1, Redding 1-1, Iroegbu 1-5, Hawkinson 0-1, King 0-2, Johnson 0-3), Colorado 10-25 (Fortune 3-8, Collier 2-2, King 2-3, Brady 1-1, Akyazili 1-3, Talton 1-4, Gordon 0-1, Fletcher 0-3). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Washington St. 32 (Hawkinson 14), Colorado 43 (Gordon, Miller 7). Assists — Washington St. 8 (Callison, Iroegbu 3), Colorado 17 (Scott 5). Total fouls_Washington St. 11, Colorado 17. Technical_Hawkinson. A_12,916.