Snapshot: CU Buffs MBB 74, Washington Huskies 68
Turning point: In a nip-and-tuck second half, CU’s Luke O’Brien hit a late 3-pointer that broke a 66-66 tie and sparked a decisive 7-0 burst by the Buffs.
Buff of the game: Julian Hammond III. Starting again in place of KJ Simpson, Hammond responded with a career-high 21 points, going 7-for-12 from the field and 5-for-5 on free throws.
What’s next?: CU will get a shot at top-seeded and second-ranked UCLA in the quarterfinals on Thursday (1 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
LAS VEGAS — It’s an almost annual rite of March.
The Colorado men’s basketball arrives at the Pac-12 Conference tournament. And the Buffaloes promptly advance.
For the 12th time in 13 seasons under head coach Tad Boyle, the Buffs advanced at the conference tournament, outlasting Washington 74-68 in the opening first round game on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
Ninth-seeded CU kept its NIT hopes alive and set up a quarterfinal date with top-seeded and No. 2-ranked UCLA on Thursday.
The Buffs avenged two regular season losses against UW behind strong defense, particularly in the first half, along with the steady play of Tristan da Silva, a double-double from Luke O’Brien, and another superb effort from Julian Hammond III in place of KJ Simpson.
“We’ve had a disappointing year based on our standards and our expectations internally, so you find out in games like this who wants their season to continue and who doesn’t,” Boyle said. “I thought our guys played like they wanted it to continue. The toughness shows up in rebounding. We were plus-nine. Our guys did a good job (getting) those 50-50 balls. It was a team effort.”
The game was tied 66-66 late when O’Brien knocked down a huge 3-pointer, starting a decisive 7-0 burst by the Buffs. Nique Clifford followed O’Brien’s 3-pointer with a steal, and Hammond converted at the other end with a jumper in the lane. After another defensive stop, da Silva knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Buffs a seven-point lead with 18.5 seconds remaining.
After playing 69 career games at CU without a double-double, O’Brien has posted two in the past three games while recording 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Huskies.
“Hopefully I have bigger shots down the road, but it felt good to have that go in,” O’Brien said of his clutch 3-pointer. “I think it was just our toughness. I think the first two games, especially the first game at their place, they kind of punked us. They played with more energy, and for some reason they played with more energy at (CU), which is very uncharacteristic of us. I thought today we came out locked-in the entire game.”
With Simpson still sidelined due to mono, Hammond once again more than picked up the slack. The sophomore guard from Cherry Creek went 7-for-12 from the field and 5-for-5 at the free throw line, finishing with a career-high 21 points with only one turnover in more than 35 minutes of court time. He scored nine points in the final 6 minutes, 8 seconds.
Hammond entered the game averaging 6.1 points this season, yet in three starting assignments in place of Simpson, he has averaged 17.3 points.
“I just prepare every day and I feel ready to go when I get the opportunity,” Hammond said. “It’s a bigger role, so I know I have to do more than what I usually do. But I don’t think it’s any extra pressure or anything. I’m just going out there and playing, having fun, and doing what I can do.”
The Buffs led the entire first half, at one point building a 14-point lead, but UW closed the first half with an 8-2 run before adding the first six points of the second half. CU finished just 5-for-20 on 3-pointers, but the Buffs held UW to a .269 shooting percentage in the first half and outrebounded the Huskies 39-30. Both teams shot better than 50% after halftime, yet it was the Buffs who made the plays down the stretch.
Colorado 74, Washington 68
da Silva 7-11 3-4 18, Lovering 4-6 1-2 9, O’Brien 6-10 0-0 13, Hammond III 7-12 5-5 21, Clifford 1-8 0-0 2, Gabbidon 1-4 0-0 2, Wright 4-11 0-0 9, Allen 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 30-66 9-11 74.
Brooks Jr. 7-13 1-1 16, Meah 2-4 0-0 4, Bey 3-9 3-4 9, Bajema 5-10 3-4 16, Menifield 3-13 1-2 8, Johnson 4-6 6-6 15, Wilson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 14-17 68.
Halftime — Colorado 28-20. 3-point field goals — Colorado 5-20 (da Silva 1-2, O’Brien 1-3, Hammond III 2-3, Clifford 0-3, Gabbidon 0-1, Wright 1-6, Allen 0-2); Washington 6-23 (Brooks Jr. 1-4, Bey 0-2, Bajema 3-6, Menifield 1-8, Johnson 1-3). Rebounds — Colorado 39 (O’Brien 10); Washington 30 (Bey 7). Assists — Colorado 16 (da Silva 5); Washington 12 (Menifield 5). Turnovers — Colorado 10; Washington 11. Total fouls — Colorado 17; Washington 15.