What went right: The second half. CU outscored the Cougars 46-22 after the break while outrebounding WSU 22-12.
What went wrong: The first half. The Buffs went 8-for-25 in the opening frame while WSU shot a robust .567 (17-for-30).
Star of the game: Derrick White. The senior guard did a little bit of everything, recording 26 points, five rebounds, five assists, and no turnovers in 38 minutes.
What’s next: CU takes on seventh-ranked Arizona in the quarterfinals Thursday night at 7 p.m. MST.
LAS VEGAS — Sometimes the Colorado Buffaloes just have to get Derrick White the ball and get the heck out of the way.
Led by White, the Buffs put together one of their best halves of the season immediately after turning in one of their worst, dominating Washington State after halftime to post a 73-63 victory Wednesday night in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament at Las Vegas’ new T-Mobile Arena.
CU trailed by 14 at the break but outscored the Cougars 46-22 in the second half. The win marked the sixth time in six seasons in the Pac-12 the Buffs have won their first game of the league tournament. It sets up a quarterfinal date against No. 7 Arizona Thursday night at 7 p.m. MST.
CU trailed by as much as 19 points in the first half before putting together the biggest postseason comeback in program history.
“The second half, I thought Derrick made some big-time plays,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “Derrick White is one of the best players in this league and anybody that hasn’t seen him play is missing something because he’s special. He showed why he is special tonight in the second half. Just made big plays for us.”
White scored 13 points in an 18-6 CU run to open the second half that abruptly put the Buffs back in the game following a listless opening half. After a bucket by Washington State’s Conor Clifford briefly stemmed the tide, CU ripped off another 14-3 run, with White this time recording assists on three consecutive Buffs baskets. That run was capped by a highlight reel Josh Fortune-to-Xavier Johnson dunk and 3-point play that gave the Buffs a seven-point lead with 6 minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
White finished with 26 points, five rebounds, five assists, and no turnovers in 38 minutes. Johnson was also key in the Buffs’ second-half charge, scoring 12 of his 19 points after the break.
“We knew that we needed to get over the edge, because we’ve had good runs before early in the year and we wouldn’t get over that five or six points barrier,” White said. “We knew we had to keep defending and just chip away at this lead.”
The Buffs’ second-half dominance extended beyond the scoreboard. WSU outrebounded CU by two in the first half, but the Buffs responded with a 22-12 edge in the second half. The Cougars shot .567 while building their first-half lead, yet the Buffs harassed them into a .308 mark after the break.
The stirring comeback sets up another postseason battle against second-seeded Arizona, a team the Buffs have faced in four of their previous five Pac-12 tournament appearances and has eliminated CU in two of the past three. CU suffered an 82-73 loss at Arizona on Jan. 7 when the Wildcats were still playing without suspended guard Allonzo Trier. Trier has averaged a team-best 16.4 points in 12 games since his return on Jan. 21.
“We’re a different team. They’re a different team,” Boyle said. “They’ve got Allonzo Trier back in the flow of what they’re doing. That game seems like a lifetime ago. It was early January, now here we are in early March. I think you’re going to see a different Arizona team, probably a different Colorado team.
“It’s beyond Xs and Os now. Our guys know what they need to do to be successful. Now it’s just a matter of going out and executing and getting the job done.”
COLORADO 73, WASHINGTON ST. 63
WASHINGTON ST. (13-18)
Hawkinson 4-7 3-4 12, Clifford 7-12 0-1 14, Iroegbu 5-10 3-5 16, Flynn 0-6 0-1 0, Callison 7-17 0-0 16, Franks 1-3 0-0 2, Daniels 1-1 0-0 3, Shpreyregin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 6-11 63.
Gordon 4-7 0-0 8, White 8-15 7-10 26, G.King 2-7 2-2 7, Collier 1-3 0-0 3, Johnson 6-10 6-7 19, Miller 0-2 3-5 3, Siewert 0-2 0-0 0, Fortune 2-6 2-2 7, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 20-26 73.
Halftime — Washington St. 41-27. 3-point goals — Washington St. 7-14 (Iroegbu 3-3, Callison 2-6, Daniels 1-1, Hawkinson 1-3, Flynn 0-1), Colorado 7-23 (White 3-8, Fortune 1-2, Johnson 1-3, Collier 1-3, G.King 1-6, Brown 0-1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Washington St. 27 (Hawkinson 12), Colorado 36 (Miller 9). Assists — Washington St. 17 (Hawkinson 5), Colorado 13 (White 5). Total fouls — Washington St. 20, Colorado 15.