Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Afterward, Jabari Walker promised his late flurry was nothing personal. At least not directly toward Milwaukee freshman Patrick Baldwin Jr., at any rate.
Still, the finishing flourish, and who Walker did it against, was only slightly less rewarding than the victory it secured.
Dozens of NBA scouts converged on the CU Events Center on Friday night to witness what was billed as a standout individual showdown between Baldwin, a projected NBA lottery pick, and Walker, who also is projected to eventually be the next NBA draft pick out of Colorado. Naturally, it didn’t pan out that way, yet with the game on the line it was Walker who took charge.
Helped by a couple key plays by Walker against Baldwin in the waning minutes, the CU men’s basketball team held off yet another upset bid at home, this time outlasting Milwaukee for a 65-54 victory on Friday night at the CU Events Center.
Last summer, Baldwin and Walker both competed at the USA Basketball U19 World Cup tryout camp. Baldwin landed a spot on the Team USA. Walker didn’t get through the final cuts. That perceived snub still gnaws at Walker, even if that emotion isn’t directed at the player he dominated down the stretch on Friday.
“He’s a great guy. He talked to me at the camp and said he’d been watching film on me, and he was one of the few guys that came up to me and talked to me first,” Walker said. “Ever since then, I said, ‘OK, he’s a humble guy.’ I just love his game and I just love who he is as a person. It really wasn’t personal. But to the people that made the decision, that’s a little personal.”
With Milwaukee clinging to a one-point lead with under four minutes remaining, the Buffs reeled off 12 consecutive points to take control. It was Walker who shook off a sub-par game to do much of that damage going head-to-head against Baldwin.
Evan Battey began the decisive run with a pair of free throws, but then Walker converted a driving layup against Baldwin. On Milwaukee’s next possession, Walker stripped Baldwin and ran free for a breakaway dunk that turned into a 3-point play thanks to a frustration foul from Baldwin.
Following another defensive stop by CU, Walker knocked down his only 3-pointer of the night with Baldwin late to contest him defensively. That shot gave the Buffs a nine-point lead with 1 minute, 20 minutes remaining.
Overall, Walker went just 4-for-14 from the floor, but he went 5-for-6 at the free throw line before finishing with 14 points, five rebounds and two turnovers. Baldwin was 3-for-13 (2-for-10 on 3-pointers) with 12 points, five rebounds and two turnovers.
“Jabari was ready to play this game, there’s no doubt about it,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “For various reasons. Number one, for the energy level that he showed last game. But the other thing was (the U19 team). Jabari struggled for most of the night. He was pressing. There’s a fine line between being aggressive and playing out of control. He kind of tipped over that line I thought tonight at times.
“But down the stretch, he made plays and I’m really proud of him for that. I know it was a big game for him.”
Although CU continued to struggle from 3-point range (3-for-15), the Buffs finished with a .429 shooting mark overall and held the Panthers to a .364 showing. While the long-range shooting of Milwaukee’s Jordan Lathon (4-for-6 on 3-pointers) kept the Panthers’ upset bid alive, the rest of Milwaukee’s team finished just 3-for-18 from the arc. CU also outrebounded the Panthers 39-30, even after a 10-4 advantage early for the Panthers on the boards.
“This team doesn’t make it look easy, that’s for darn sure,” Boyle said. “It reminds me of the old Forrest Gump line, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.’ This basketball team is like a box of chocolates. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. And it’s not just night to night. It’s media timeout to media timeout. It’s first half to second half. We just have to become more consistent, but we made plays when we had to make plays.”
What went right: CU held Milwaukee to a .364 mark from the field, including a 7-for-24 effort on 3-pointers. The Buffs also outrebounded the Panthers 39-30.
What went wrong: The Buffs’ long-range struggles continued with a 3-for-15 showing on 3-pointers. CU also had more turnovers (13) than assists (10) for the fourth consecutive game.
Star of the game: Jabari Walker. It wasn’t Walker’s overall numbers that gave him the nod (4-for-14, 14 points). But he scored eight points during a decisive 12-0 Buffs run in the waning minutes.
What’s next: With finals week on deck, the Buffs will be idle until a Dec. 18 home game against Cal Bakersfield (noon, Pac-12 Network).
Colorado 65, Milwaukee 54
Simms 2-5 0-0 4, St. Pierre 4-6 0-0 8, Baldwin 3-13 4-7 12, Lathon 5-10 0-0 14, Newby 1-6 0-0 3, Gholston 1-8 3-4 5, Thomas 4-6 0-0 8, Bol 0-1 0-0 0, Baker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-55 7-11 54.
Battey 6-8 3-5 15, Walker 4-14 5-6 14, da Silva 1-6 0-0 2, Barthelemy 2-7 0-0 4, Parquet 3-4 4-4 11, Simpson 2-6 0-0 4, Clifford 1-3 2-2 4, Lovering 1-3 0-0 2, O’Brien 4-5 0-0 9, Hammond 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 14-17 65.
Halftime – Colorado 28-24. 3-point field goals – Milwaukee 7-24 (Lathon 4-6, Baldwin 2-10, Newby 1-4, Gholston 0-2, Simms 0-2), Colorado 3-15 (O’Brien 1-1, Parquet 1-1, Walker 1-4, Clifford 0-1, Simpson 0-1, da Silva 0-3, Barthelemy 0-4). Rebounds – Milwaukee 30 (St. Pierre 8), Colorado 39 (Battey, Walker, Parquet 5). Assists – Milwaukee 7 (Lathon 3), Colorado 10 (Simpson 4). Total Fouls – Milwaukee 21, Colorado 11. A – 6,388.