Balanced effort sends CU Buffs into Pac-12 semifinals for first time in five years

  • Ethan Miller / Getty Images

    Colorado's Shane Gatling, center, and Tyler Bey celebrate after Gatling hit a 3-point field goal early in the Buffs' 73-58 win over Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

  • Ethan Miller / Getty Images

    Colorado's Daylen Kountz flies in for a dunk in a first-half fast-break sequence Thursday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

  • Ethan Miller / Getty Images

    McKinley Wright of Colorado, right, looks to feed inside as Oregon State's Ethan Thompson defends on Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas.



Fast break

What went right: CU outrebounded the Beavers 39-28 and held OSU to a 3-for-18 mark on 3-pointers. The Buffs also committed just 10 turnovers after recording a season-most 23 against Cal a day earlier.

What went wrong: The Buffs missed 17 of their first 20 shots after halftime.

Star of the game: Alex Strating. With apologies to leading scorer McKinley Wright, Strating provided a huge spark off the bench, scoring a career-best 10 points. The third-year sophomore went 4-for-6 from the field, 2-for-2 at the free throw line, and turned his lone rebound into an assist.

What’s next: The fifth-seeded Buffs will face top-seeded Washington in the Pac-12 semifinals Friday night (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

LAS VEGAS — Winning the first game of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, as the Colorado Buffaloes have done every season since joining the league in 2012, is one thing. Advancing further has been problematic for coach Tad Boyle’s club in recent seasons.

That finally changed Thursday.

The fifth-seeded Buffs dominated the first half before weathering a spirited Oregon State comeback bid after halftime, holding on for a 73-58 victory in the Pac-12 Conference quarterfinals at T-Mobile Arena. The win was the 10th in 12 games for CU dating back to a regular-season loss at home against the Beavers on Jan. 31, and it sets up a showdown against top-seeded Washington in the semifinals on Friday (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

It is the fourth time the Buffs have reached the conference semifinals in nine seasons under Boyle — one in the Big 12, three in the Pac-12 — but the first since 2014.

“I didn’t talk to these guys about it, because these guys haven’t been around so I didn’t want to put undue pressure on them,” Boyle said. “But I just felt like as a coach, we’ve won in the first round every year we’ve been here, but we haven’t been to the semis in a while. In order to get to the finals, you have to get to the semis. We did what we had to do. These guys are playing like they don’t want to go home. We want to extend this stay as long as we can.”

The game profiled much like the teams’ lone regular-season matchup, with CU clicking in the first half before the Beavers rallied in the second half.

The difference this time, however, was just how dominant the Buffs were in the first half. After missing their first five shots, the Buffs went 15-for-23 over the remainder of the opening period, building a 21-point lead before going into the break with a 37-18 edge.

Also unlike that January night in Boulder, the Buffs didn’t flinch when the Beavers made their move. Oregon State steadily chipped away in the second half, eventually cutting CU’s lead to six points. CU never trailed, but when OSU’s Ethan Thompson hit a pair of free throws to cut the Buffs’ lead to 55-49 with 5 minutes, 33 seconds remaining, the momentum squarely was in the Beavers’ corner.

“We just talked about being patient on offense and really keep guarding the same way we did in the first half,” redshirt freshman forward Evan Battey said. “That was pretty much it.”

Reserve forward Alex Strating capped the most significant game of his career with a driving layup shortly after Thompson’s free throws, sending the Buffs on a 12-3 run that pushed the lead back to a comfortable 15 points with 1:27 remaining.

Strating finished with a career-high 10 points, going 4-for-6 from the floor while also contributing an offensive rebound he turned into an assist on a Shane Gatling 3-pointer.

Strating was one of five CU players to score in double-figures in a balanced attack, an effort led by 17 points from point guard McKinley Wright. The Buffs also had five players grab at least five rebounds, led by nine from Battey.

Like their first round win against Cal on Wednesday, the Buffs were strong defensively and on the glass, outrebounding OSU 39-28. The Beavers recovered from their 8-for-29 mark in the first half to shoot 42 percent after halftime, but OSU finished just 3-for-18 on 3-pointers.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. Our defense the last two games has just kind of ratcheted up to another level,” Boyle said. “We were challenged in a different way than we were yesterday with Cal. Oregon State has got three really, really good players. I can’t say enough about Tres Tinkle and the Thompson brothers. We knew in the second half they were going to make some sort of run at us, and they did. We bowed our backs and never let it get below six.”

Pat Rooney: or



COLORADO (21-11)

Battey 4-7 2-3 10, Gatling 4-6 4-4 15, M.Wright 4-8 8-8 17, Bey 2-8 4-4 8, Schwartz 3-8 3-4 11, Strating 4-6 2-2 10, Siewert 0-5 0-2 0, Kountz 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 22-51 23-27 73.

OREGON ST. (18-13)

Tinkle 8-21 5-8 23, Kelley 3-3 1-2 7, Hollins 0-1 0-0 0, S.Thompson 3-10 4-4 10, E.Thompson 4-12 7-8 16, Washington 0-1 0-0 0, Rakocevic 0-2 0-0 0, Vernon 0-1 2-2 2, Reichle 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-53 19-24 58.

Halftime — Colorado 37-18. 3-point goals — Colorado 6-16 (Gatling 3-4, Schwartz 2-5, M.Wright 1-2, Kountz 0-2, Siewert 0-3), Oregon St. 3-18 (Tinkle 2-7, E.Thompson 1-3, Vernon 0-1, Hollins 0-1, Reichle 0-1, S.Thompson 0-5). Fouled out — Battey. Rebounds — Colorado 39 (Battey 9), Oregon St. 28 (E.Thompson 7). Assists — Colorado 14 (M.Wright 4), Oregon St. 5 (S.Thompson, E.Thompson 2). Total fouls_Colorado 20, Oregon St. 22. A_10,556 (18,000).