STANFORD, Calif. — This is the exact opposite of peaking at the right time for the Colorado Buffaloes.
CU’s late-season swoon continued Sunday afternoon at Stanford, as the Cardinal took advantage of a porous Buffs defense while sending CU to a 72-64 defeat at Maples Pavilion.
The loss gave the Buffs their first three-game losing streak since late in the 2017-18 season. No. 21 CU likely will drop out of the AP Top 25 on Monday for the first time since late December and, far more importantly, a team that was in control of its own destiny in the race for the Pac-12 Conference crown just a few weeks ago suddenly is in very real danger of landing outside the league’s top four, which comes with a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
CU will go into the final week of the regular season in tie for fourth place but will need a win in the regular-season finale Saturday at Utah, plus some help from around the league, to secure a bye in Las Vegas that felt like a given less than two weeks ago. Even if the Buffs win their finale, two wins by Arizona, as one example, would allow the Wildcats to supplant CU for the No. 4 seed.
“I feel like our team has lost its defensive identity, our will,” CU forward Evan Battey said. “Just everything defensively has gone out the window. I don’t know why. And we’ve got to figure that out.”
After allowing a Cal team that entered Thursday’s game ranked 11th in league games in field goal percentage to shoot 46.3%, it was more of the same for the Buffs against Stanford, which owns the top field goal percentage in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal got to the basket at will, with Bryce Wills (9-for-13), Oscar da Silva (8-for-14), and Daejon Davis (5-for-11) repeatedly carving up the CU defense. Stanford shot at least 50% in both halves and finished at 52.5%, becoming the fourth straight opponent to shoot at least 45% against the Buffs. It also was the third time in Pac-12 play a CU opponent has shot at least 50%.
CU finished with 16 turnovers, its second-highest total in Pac-12 play. Two of them occurred on simple inbounds plays after Stanford baskets, with the Cardinal posting 20 points off those 16 giveaways in addition to recording a whopping 56-34 scoring advantage in the paint.
“It’s on me. Coach always says it’s on him, but it’s not,” CU point guard McKinley Wright IV said. “The scouting report literally had everything we need to win. Keep Wills and Davis out of the paint. They’re drivers, they’re not shooters. Those two guys got to the paint at will.”
After trailing for much of the game, the Buffs faced a 65-52 deficit with eight minutes remaining before attempting to rally. Six straight points by Wright started CU on a 10-0 run that trimmed Stanford’s lead to three points with four minutes remaining. But Wills answered with a bucket to give the Cardinal a five-point edge, and the Buffs went cold while Wills broke loose for an easy dunk off an inbounds play that sealed CU’s fate.
Stanford took control by reeling off seven consecutive points in what became a 14-2 run midway through the first half, giving the Cardinal a 12-point lead. Stanford soon extended the advantage to 15 points before CU managed to finish the first half with a flurry, recording an 8-0 run capped by a Wright 3-pointer in the waning seconds that cut the Cardinal lead to 35-28 at the break.
The Buffs looked ready for a rally immediately after halftime, cutting the Stanford lead to three on a Lucas Siewert 3-pointer five minutes into the second half. But, as it did throughout the game, the Cardinal responded with a 12-2 run to reassert control.
“Right now, we’re not good enough defensively,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “It starts in practice. It starts in understanding scouting reports and the pride it takes to take a guy one-on-one defensively and be able to know that he’s going to drive, and keep him in front of you and make him make a tough shot rather than let him get by you and get to the rim. We weren’t able to do that tonight.
“We got two turnovers in the second half taking the ball out of bounds when they’re not pressing. That’s junior high kind of stuff. That’s November kind of stuff. And that’s what we did. You’ve got to credit Stanford, but it’s hard to credit Stanford when you’re just inept at taking the ball out of bounds. Sixteen turnovers on the road is a lot to overcome. Especially silly ones and ones at critical times.”
What went right: Very little, though the Buffs outrebounded the Cardinal 21-14 after halftime to keep things close.
What went wrong: Take your pick. CU committed 16 turnovers and allowed Stanford to shoot .525, much of it compiled on easy baskets at the rim.
Star of the game: Though he finished just 6-for-20, point guard McKinley Wright IV was the biggest reason the Buffs were able to stay close. He finished with a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and also matched a career-high with three steals.
What’s next: Needing a win and some help around the league to land a top-four spot and a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament, the Buffs complete the regular season Saturday afternoon at Utah (12:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks).
Stanford 72, No. 21 Colorado 64
COLORADO (21-9, 10-8)
Battey 3-5 0-0 6, Gatling 2-3 0-0 4, Bey 6-14 5-6 17, Schwartz 5-9 2-2 14, Wright 6-20 0-0 13, Siewert 2-6 0-0 5, Parquet 2-4 0-0 5, Walton 0-0 0-0 0, Kountz 0-0 0-0 0, Daniels 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 7-8 62.
STANFORD (20-9, 9-7)
da Silva 8-14 0-1 16, Davis 5-11 2-3 12, Wills 9-13 0-0 19, Terry 3-8 5-6 12, Herenton 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 2-5 0-1 4, Kisunas 1-2 0-0 2, Delaire 3-6 0-0 7, White 0-0 0-0 0, Keefe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-59 7-11 72.
Halftime — Stanford 35-28. 3-point field goals — Colorado 5-20 (Schwartz 2-5, Wright 1-7, Parquet 1-3, Siewert 1-3, Bey 0-2); Stanford 3-14 (Terry 1-4, Delaire 1-1, Wills 1-1, da Silva 0-2, Davis 0-3, Jones 0-3). Rebounds — Colorado 31 (Wright 11); Stanford 31 (da Silva, Wills, Jones 5). Assists — Colorado 5 (Wright, Bey 2). Total fouls — Colorado 15, Stanford 12. A — 7,123.