Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
It wasn’t nearly as pleasing to the eye as last week’s dismantling of USC on the road, but with the second half of the Pac-12 Conference schedule officially underway, style points are far less critical than results.
And the 24th-ranked Colorado Buffaloes got the result they needed Thursday night.
Surviving a hot shooting night by Cal, the Buffs pulled away late for a 71-65 win in a Pac-12 battle at the CU Events Center.
“Not the prettiest win,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “It reminded me of wins we had as a program this November and December, when we kind of just weren’t very good, but we found a way to win the game. We had a handful of those this year early in the year, and then we’ve gotten certainly better since then.
“One stat that we chart is kills, when you get three stops in a row. Our goal as a program is to have three of those in a half. In some of our games this year we’ve had in excess of that. But tonight we had one each half. When you look at that stat, you can’t separate yourself because you can’t get multiple stops in a row. That’s why we couldn’t pull away from Cal.”
A Buffs team whose offense has steadily improved over the past month and a half found points far more elusive against Cal, whose deliberate pace and hot-shooting night led to an upset bid.
CU entered the game with a .369 3-point percentage but went 7-for-24 against the Golden Bears, with the Buffs’ .292 mark from the arc counting as its lowest since going 5-for-20 (.250) against Prairie View A&M on Dec. 19. The Buffs also entered the game shooting .743 at the free throw line but went 16-for-24, with several late misses keeping the Bears in the fight.
Cal, meanwhile, shot .556, its best shooting percentage of the Pac-12 schedule and the best mark by a CU opponent this season.
“Our first half defense was terrible. I think at halftime they were (63) percent,” CU point guard McKinley Wright said. “I don’t think that’s happened to us all year. I don’t know when the last time that happened to us. That’s an area we have to be more locked in at, and locking in the personnel more so.”
The game was tied 28-28 at halftime, but the Buffs at least briefly took control by reeling off eight consecutive points in an 11-2 run, a burst highlighted by a Shane Gatling-to-D’Shawn Schwartz fast break alley-oop. CU pushed its lead to six points before the Bears started chipping away, eventually regaining a 46-45 lead on a drive by Matt Bradley with about 8 minutes remaining.
The Bears remained within three points before a Wright 3-pointer with about three minutes remaining started the Buffs on an 8-2 run that gave them breathing room down the stretch.
CU needed every inch of that cushion. After Wright missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw attempt, Bradley answered with a quick 3-pointer to pull the Bears within four points with 50 seconds to go. Cal remained within four points on two Bradley free throws with 32.6 seconds to play, but Gatling, Evan Battey, and Eli Parquet combined to go 6-for-6 on free throws in the final 30 seconds to keep the Bears at bay.
Bey paced the Buffs with 21 points and 10 rebounds, posting his eighth double-double of the season and the 27th of his career. Wright finished with 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists, while Schwartz added 14 points and four assists.
“Attention to detail, game plan, all the things I’ve really praised our guys with at times this year, we were not very good at tonight,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to own that and quick turnaround for Saturday.”
What went right: After shooting just .393 in the first half with a 2-for-13 mark on 3-pointers, the Buffs turned it around after the break, shooting .591 after halftime while going 5-for-11 on 3-pointers.
What went wrong: Cal shot .556, its top mark in Pac-12 play and the highest shooting percentage by a CU opponent this year.
Star of the game: Tyler Bey. The junior forward posted his eighth double-double of the season and the 27th of his career, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
What’s next: It will be a quick turnaround for CU, which hosts Stanford on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
No. 24 COLORADO 71, CALIFORNIA 65
CALIFORNIA (10-12, 4-5 Pac-12)
Anticevich 3-6 0-0 8, Thiemann 0-0 1-4 1, Austin 5-10 4-6 15, Bradley 6-12 3-4 17, South 3-7 0-0 7, Kelly 6-7 0-1 12, Thorpe 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 2-2 0-2 5, Kuany 0-0 0-0 0, Serge 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-45 8-17 65.
COLORADO (18-5, 7-3)
Battey 1-2 2-3 4, Gatling 3-8 2-2 10, Wright 6-9 3-5 17, Bey 8-14 4-6 21, Schwartz 5-7 2-3 14, Siewert 0-7 1-2 1, Parquet 0-0 2-2 2, Daniels 0-2 0-0 0, Kountz 1-1 0-1 2, Strating 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 16-24 71.
Halftime – 28-28. 3-point goals – California 7-13 (Anticevich 2-4, Bradley 2-4, Austin 1-1, Brown 1-1, South 1-3), Colorado 7-24 (Schwartz 2-3, Wright 2-4, Gatling 2-7, Bey 1-4, Daniels 0-2, Siewert 0-4). Rebounds – California 23 (Kelly 7), Colorado 32 (Bey 10). Assists – California 9 (Austin, Brown 3), Colorado 15 (Gatling, Wright, Schwartz 4). Total Fouls – California 22, Colorado 15. A – 6,656.