LAS VEGAS — Colorado still has everything to play for, and on Sunday the Buffaloes will learn their next postseason destination.
However, adding a second Pac-12 Conference tournament championship to the program archives will have to wait for another season.
Unable to cool Oregon State on a hot-shooting night, the Buffs dropped a 70-68 decision against the Beavers in the conference title game Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. The fifth-seeded Beavers become a bid-stealer by earning the Pac-12’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first tourney berth since 2016.
No. 23 CU also will make its first tourney appearance since 2016 despite seeing its six-game winning streak end in frustrating fashion. Oregon State already was the first team to reach the conference title game after getting picked last in the preseason media poll, and the Beavers’ victory on Saturday culminated a run of three wins in three days against likely NCAA Tournament squads — UCLA, Oregon, and CU.
During two wins against OSU in the regular season, the Buffs held the Beavers to a combined .263 mark (10-for-38) on 3-pointers. It was a much different story on Saturday night, as OSU went 6-for-10 from long range in the first half and finished 9-for-22.
Much of that damage was done by Maurice Calloo, who entered the game averaging 4.8 points per game but put up 15 against the Buffs, and Jarod Lucas, who was only 2-for-7 from long-range but hit a critical one in a key sequence down the stretch.
“The key defensive part of our game plan tonight was guard the 3-point line,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We knew that Calloo is a shooter. He makes three. He’s not supposed to get three off. You can’t do that at this time of year against good teams. They’re going to make you pay.
“I’ve complimented this team and this group of guys when they have executed the defensive game plan. Tonight we didn’t, and it cost us the game. Guarding the 3-point line was the key.”
While the Buffs never led after the opening two minutes, they also remained within two possessions for the bulk of the second half. CU trailed by only four points when the Beavers turned in what Boyle described as the play of the game when Warith Alatishe grabbed an offensive rebound off his own missed free throw and found Lucas for a 3-pointer.
That gave Oregon State a 64-57 lead, and despite four consecutive points from D’Shawn Schwartz afterward, the Buffs couldn’t get over the hump down the stretch. In a season in which the Buffs have threatened the NCAA single-season free throw record, using their free throw prowess to win several games, CU picked a terrible time to come back to earth, finishing 12-for-20 in a two-point decision.
CU caught a slight break when Lucas, a 90 percent free throw shooter, missed one with 5.8 seconds left with OSU leading by three. The Beavers wisely fouled McKinley Wright IV in the backcourt, and after CU’s senior point guard made the first free throw with 2.2 seconds left, Boyle said the intent was to have Wright miss the second one intentionally in the desperate hope of getting off a shot after an offensive rebound.
However, on a night when no bounces seemed to go the Buffs’ way, Wright’s second attempt indeed drew iron but instead dropped through. Oregon State knocked down one more free throw with 1.7 seconds left, and after Wright’s errant half-court heave, the Beavers began the celebration while the Buffs trudged off to begin the process of shaking off their disappointment to regroup for the Big Dance.
Wright finished with 18 points, seven assists, and six rebounds for the Buffs, while Evan Battey posted 16 points and eight rebounds. Wright and Battey were named to the all-tournament team.
“I’m extremely disappointed and heartbroken for our players. We came here to win a championship and we came up short,” Boyle said. “Credit to Oregon State. They deserved to win this game and played better than we did tonight. We just weren’t good enough. I just thought they were the tougher team tonight and they were a little bit more aggressive tonight, especially when the ball went up on the backboard.”
What went right: CU shot .472 overall and committed only nine turnovers, even after committing the first five turnovers in the game’s first nine minutes.
What went wrong: The top free throw shooting team in CU and Pac-12 history went just 12-for-20 at the line.
Star of the game: Evan Battey. The fourth-year junior went 7-for-9 and finished with 16 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
What’s next: Selection Sunday, as the Buffs will learn their opponent and destination — either Indianapolis, Bloomington, or West Lafayette in Indiana — for the NCAA Tournament.
Oregon State 70, No. 23 Colorado 68
OREGON STATE (17-12)
Alatishe 4-8 0-1 8, Silva 2-4 1-2 5, Lucas 3-8 6-7 14, Reichle 3-4 0-0 7, Thompson 3-9 0-0 7, Hunt 3-6 2-2 10, Calloo 6-11 0-0 15, Andela 1-1 1-2 3, Silver 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-52 11-16 70.
Battey 7-9 2-3 16, Walton 1-3 0-1 2, Parquet 1-3 0-0 2, Wright 6-13 5-8 18, Schwartz 3-5 2-4 11, Horne 2-10 2-2 6, Daniels 2-2 0-0 5, Walker 1-5 1-2 4, da Silva 1-2 0-0 2, Barthelemy 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-53 12-20 68.
Halftime — Oregon St. 33-28. 3-point goals — Oregon St. 9-22 (Calloo 3-6, Hunt 2-3, Lucas 2-7, Reichle 1-1, Thompson 1-4, Silver 0-1), Colorado 6-19 (Schwartz 3-4, Daniels 1-1, Walker 1-3, Wright 1-3, Parquet 0-1, Walton 0-1, da Silva 0-1, Horne 0-5). Rebounds — Oregon St. 27 (Alatishe 7), Colorado 32 (Battey 8). Assists — Oregon St. 14 (Thompson 4), Colorado 10 (Wright 7). Total fouls — Oregon St. 19, Colorado 15.