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No. 4 UCLA clinches Pac-12 crown by holding off CU Buffs men’s basketball

Colorado's KJ Simpson, right, gets past UCLA's Jaime Jaquez for a score during Sunday's game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s KJ Simpson, right, gets past UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez for a score during Sunday’s game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Snapshot: No. 4 UCLA 60, CU Buffs MBB 56

Turning point: In a back-and-forth second half, CU trailed by two points and had the ball with under a minute to play. But a turnover led to an easy dunk for UCLA’s Amari Bailey, all but sealing the Buffs’ fate.

Buff of the game: Luke O’Brien. The junior forward recorded the first double-double of his career, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. O’Brien also went 3-for-6 on 3-pointers and didn’t commit a turnover in nearly 36 minutes of action.

What’s next?: CU completes the regular season on Saturday at home against Utah (3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

The fight was back for the Colorado men’s basketball team. The results were not.

Two days after struggling through a listless defeat against USC, the Buffaloes brought a much more spirited fight to the floor on Sunday against No. 4 UCLA. But it was the Bruins who delivered the decisive shots down the stretch, ruining CU’s upset bid by handing the Buffs a 60-56 defeat at the CU Events Center.

It was the fourth loss in five games for the Buffs, who also have lost seven of their past eight matchups against the Bruins. With the win, UCLA clinched the regular season Pac-12 Conference championship, while the Buffs are likely locked into the No. 9 spot for the conference tournament regardless of the result against Utah in the regular season finale.

CU can’t finish higher than ninth but, thanks to Stanford’s home win against Washington on Sunday, the Buffs still can drop to 10th with a loss against Utah and a road sweep by Stanford at the Oregon schools.

“Losing is losing and the feeling is the same in your stomach in your disgust and frustration and anger. Whatever you want to call it,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “But there’s a different feeling today after the loss than after Thursday night’s loss. Something I talked to the players about in the locker room is the reason they’re down and disappointed tonight is because they fought their tails off, and they competed their tails off, and they came up short.”

The Buffs led 52-50 after a 3-pointer by Nique Clifford with about four minutes remaining, but UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. answered with a post-up bucket to tie the game. The Buffs took their final lead on one Luke O’Brien free throw with 3 minutes, 10 seconds to play, but the Bruins scored six of the next seven points to build a four-point cushion.

CU played the final 5:15 without leading scorer Tristan da Silva, who did not return after suffering an ankle injury. Already playing without injured rotation players J’Vonne Hadley, Javon Ruffin and Jalen Gabbidon, Boyle pieced together a quintet of O’Brien, Clifford, KJ Simpson, Lawson Lovering and Ethan Wright down the stretch in hopes of pulling out the upset.

“It’s night and day different (from USC),” said O’Brien, who posted the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “We were guarding. We took pride in our one-on-one defense. Everybody was in the gap. Everybody was helping each other. And we did not see that on Thursday. Thursday we kind of just gave in to them shooting threes and backing off and not showing anything. But tonight I thought we played team defense really well.”

Like last month’s loss at UCLA, the Buffs did enough little things to win but got outplayed at crunch time. CU held the Bruins to a 1-for-14 mark on 3-pointers and outrebounded UCLA 40-35. The Buffs committed a season-high 23 turnovers at UCLA last month but recorded only 12 on Sunday, including just three in the second half. However, in a four-point game the Buffs finished just 13-for-23 at the free throw line, and CU recorded just two field goals after da Silva went to the locker room with 5:15 remaining. The Buffs’ .333 shooting percentage was their second-lowest of the season, trailing only the .306 mark they put up at UCLA last month.

“Our guys fought and battled, especially when Tristan went out,” Boyle said. “We could’ve folded our tents and felt sorry for ourselves. We didn’t do that. Guys kept fighting. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.”

No. 4 UCLA 60, Colorado 56

UCLA (25-4, 16-2 Pac-12)

Bona 2-2 4-6 8, Clark 3-11 2-2 8, Bailey 4-8 3-4 11, Campbell 5-12 3-4 14, Jaquez Jr. 7-14 3-4 17, McClendon 1-2 0-0 2, Nwuba 0-2 0-0 0, Singleton 0-1 0-0 0, Andrews 0-1 0-2 0, Etienne 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 15-22 60.

Colorado (15-15, 7-12)

da Silva 5-13 2-2 13, Lovering 2-4 3-6 7, O’Brien 4-9 2-6 13, Simpson 4-14 6-7 14, Clifford 1-7 0-2 3, Hammond III 1-2 0-0 3, Wright 0-3 0-0 0, Allen 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 18-54 13-23 56.

Halftime — Colorado 30-28. 3-point field goals — UCLA 1-14 (Clark 0-3, Campbell 1-3, Jaquez Jr. 0-5, McClendon 0-1, Singleton 0-1, Andrews 0-1); Colorado 7-22 (da Silva 1-4, O’Brien 3-6, Simpson 0-3, Clifford 1-3, Hammond III 1-1, Wright 0-3, Allen 1-2). Rebounds — UCLA 35 (Bona 7); Colorado 40 (O’Brien 10). Assists — UCLA 6 (Campbell 3); Colorado 11 (Wright 3). Total fouls — UCLA 20, Colorado 16. Fouled out — Clark. A — 8,680.