LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t anywhere near Colorado’s finest performance of the season.
But just maybe the Buffaloes shook off the rust of a one-week layoff. And perhaps they got a subpar game out of their system without paying a heavy price.
It at times wasn’t pretty, but the 23rd-ranked Buffs punched their ticket to the Pac-12 Conference semifinals with a 61-58 quarterfinal-round win against Cal late Thursday night. The third-seeded Buffs advanced to the semifinals for the second time in three seasons and the fourth time overall in 10 appearances in the Pac-12 tourney.
CU will play second-seeded and 24th-ranked USC in the second semifinal on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena (9:30 p.m. MT, ESPN).
“March is all about surviving and advancing,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I think coach (Jim) Valvano is the one that came up with that if I’m correct. We survived tonight, and we’re advancing. We didn’t play our best basketball. Call had a lot to do with that. They’re so physical and they got hot (late) in the second half.”
It was a frustrating start for the Buffs, who missed their first seven shots of the night while Cal jumped to a 7-0 lead. CU chipped away, finally taking its first lead on a 3-point play from Jabari Walker with 3 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half. Dallas Walton sparked the offense late in the first half, posting seven of his nine first-half points in a span of 1:42 to help CU take a 24-20 lead at the break.
Cal owned a one-point lead early in the second half before the Buffs took control with a 15-3 run. CU built a 13-point lead late in before the Bears answered with a 10-1 run to get back in the game. Cal freshman Jalen Celestine scored six points in about 16 seconds during the final minute, first by hitting three free throws after getting fouled on a long-range attempt, and then hitting a 3-pointer after a Buffs turnover on the ensuing inbounds play.
CU, though, held off the Bears over the final 30 seconds to advance.
Evan Battey led the Buffs with 15 points and five rebounds, while point guard McKinley Wright IV shook off a tough shooting night (4-for-14) to finish with 10 points, four rebounds, and three assists.
Eli Parquet scored just four points, all early in the second half, but the Pac-12 first team All-Defense selection took the lead in holding Cal star Matt Bradley without a field goal until 6:30 remained in the game.
“Cal is a good team. They compete and they fight and they’re a physical team,” Battey said. “Nothing easy is going to come in March. I feel like we did what we needed to do to win this game. Obviously we can play better on the offensive end. But we guarded. I say this all the time but that’s what our program is founded off of. It gives us a chance to win every night — defend and rebound.
“You take your wins any way you can get them. We’re not satisfied. We know we have a talented team (Friday). A talented, good, well-coached team. We’re going to be prepared and try to win that game.”
What went right: CU held Cal to a .383 mark and outrebounded the Bears 34-30. The Buffs turned 12 offensive rebounds into a 13-5 edge on second-chance points.
What went wrong: The Buffs weren’t any better from the field, shooting just .385 with a 3-for-14 mark on 3-pointers.
Star of the game: Evan Battey. The junior forward led all scorers with 15 points and added five rebounds.
What’s next: The third-seeded Buffs will face second-seeded USC in the Pac-12 semifinals on Friday night (9:30 p.m. MT, ESPN).
No. 23 Colorado 61, California 58
Anticevich 4-10 0-0 11, Thiemann 0-0 2-2 2, Bradley 3-11 3-3 10, Brown 2-3 3-6 7, Celestine 2-6 3-3 9, Betley 2-5 0-0 5, Thorpe 3-3 3-3 9, Foreman 0-7 0-0 0, Kelly 2-2 0-0 4, Kuany 0-0 1-3 1, Bowser 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-47 15-20 58.
Battey 5-7 5-7 15, Walton 3-4 2-2 9, Parquet 1-3 2-2 4, Wright 4-14 2-2 10, Schwartz 2-7 4-5 9, Horne 2-7 2-2 6, Walker 3-5 1-3 8, Daniels 0-2 0-0 0, Barthelemy 0-3 0-0 0, da Silva 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-52 18-23 61.
Halftime — Colorado 24-20. 3-point goals — California 7-25 (Anticevich 3-6, Celestine 2-5, Betley 1-3, Bradley 1-6, Brown 0-1, Foreman 0-4), Colorado 3-13 (Walker 1-1, Walton 1-1, Schwartz 1-3, Barthelemy 0-1, Battey 0-1, Parquet 0-1, Wright 0-1, Daniels 0-2, Horne 0-2). Fouled out — Bradley, Brown. Rebounds — California 30 (Anticevich 6), Colorado 34 (Walker 6). Assists — California 7 (Brown 4), Colorado 8 (Wright 3). Total fouls — California 23, Colorado 17.