Nati Harnik / Associated Press
Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press
Nati Harnik / Associated Press
What went right: In the first half, almost everything. CU shot 50 percent in the first 20 minutes against one of the nation’s leaders in defensive field goal percentage while forging a nine-point halftime lead.
What went wrong: In the second half, almost everything. CU led the Pac-12 in free throw shooting and 3-point percentage but went 19-for-30 at the line and 2-for-10 from long range. The Buffs were outrebounded 21-13 in the second half.
Star of the game: Josh Scott. CU’s leader tried to carry his team one last time, producing the 36th double-double of his career with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
What’s next?: The offseason. The Buffs will take a few weeks off before hitting the gym and weight room with an eye on 2016-17.
DES MOINES, Iowa — It happened at USC. It happened against SMU. And it happened twice against Utah.
In each of the aforementioned instances the Colorado Buffaloes let games they had firmly in control slip away in late flurries of turnovers and poor execution.
Now, on college basketball’s biggest stage, UConn can be added to that list.
It was a familiar scene for the 2015-16 Buffs on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as untimely turnovers during the second half and too many wasted possessions turned a nine-point halftime lead into a 74-67 defeat against UConn.
CU’s season ends at 22-12. It was the Buffs’ fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons, but Thursday’s loss marked their third consecutive first-round exit.
The Buffs were outscored 47-31 in the second half, a margin that would have been even more glaring if not for a 10-0 CU run in the waning minutes that gave a brief glimmer of a Buffs comeback.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow because we felt we had this game in hand. We just didn’t finish,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “We held them to 27 points in the first half and 47 in the second half. Give them credit. They made their free throws. They made big threes when they had to make big threes.”
CU led 36-27 at the half and never trailed during the opening frame, but the Huskies took over in a hurry after the break. UConn scored seven consecutive points to pull within 42-40, with the final five of those points coming directly off CU turnovers. Minutes later the Huskies took over with a 15-2 run that gave UConn a nine-point edge with 7 minutes, 45 seconds remaining.
The Buffs still remained within six points with just under five minutes to go when UConn reeled off another 7-0 run. The Buffs showed gumption with a late 10-0 surge to pull within three, but UConn went 8-for-8 at the free throw line in the final minute, including a 6-for-6 mark from Sterling Gibbs, to keep CU at bay.
“They applied pressure on us and that got us speeded up, and we weren’t able to take care of the ball,” CU forward Wesley Gordon said. “It just went downhill from there. I think they had more guys to the glass every time than we did.”
After leading the Pac-12 Conference in both free throw shooting and 3-point percentage, the Buffs struggled on both fronts at Wells Fargo Arena. CU went 19-for-30 at the free throw line and 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. The Buffs committed only five turnovers in the first half but committed seven in the second half, with four of those occurring in the first nine minutes after the break.
The Buffs’ 12 turnovers led to 18 points for the Huskies. Additionally, while CU entered halftime with a 20-15 rebounding advantage, UConn outrebounded the Buffs 21-13 in the second half.
Josh Scott put together a commanding performance in the final game of his decorated CU career, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds. However, no other CU player reached double-figure points, with Gordon recording nine points and nine rebounds.
“They picked up their pressure,” CU guard Dom Collier said. “We knew they were going to pick up their pressure at some point in the game. We’ve been working on it all week in practice. But we had a few turnovers down the stretch that hurt us.”