Buffs Fall To Huskies In Pac-12 Semifinal
Neill Woelk, CUBuffs.com Contributing Editor
LAS VEGAS — The Colorado Buffaloes just didn't have quite enough gas in their tank Friday night.
Playing their third game in three days with a limited bench, the Buffs started fast but couldn't sustain the momentum after halftime, dropping a 66-61 decision to Washington in their Pac-12 tournament semifinal at T-Mobile Arena.
The fifth-seeded Buffs, who led 33-27 at the half, fell to 21-12 with the loss and will now wait for Sunday's postseason tournament pairings to be announced. Asked if he thought the Buffs were a strong NIT candidate, head coach Tad Boyle said, "Absolutely."
The top-seeded Huskies, meanwhile, improved to 26-7 to advance to Saturday night's tourney final while also improving their NCAA Tournament at-large prospects should they not win the tournament title.
Sophomore forward Tyler Bey led CU with a 22-point, 16-rebound double-double — his 15th of the season — but he was the only Buff in double figures. Colorado's sophomore McKinley Wright IV delivered a stellar defensive effort against Washington's Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell, but he struggled on the offensive end, finishing with seven points and seven rebounds on 1-for-10 shooting. D'Shawn Schwartz and Evan Battey each finished with eight points for Colorado.
Nowell led Washington with 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting while Matisse Thybulle added 12 points.
Wright was by no means the only Buff to have a tough night from the floor against Washington's zone defense, as backcourt mate Shane Gatling was just 1-for-7. After shooting 11-for-23 in the opening half, Colorado hit just six of 30 field goal tries in the final 20 minutes to finish 32.1 percent (17-for-53) for the night.
That cold shooting, combined with 18 turnovers that led to 24 Washington points, was too much for CU to overcome. Colorado did hold a 44-27 rebounding edge and limited Washington to under 40 percent shooting (21-for-43).
"We talk about defense and rebounding all the time and that was good enough tonight," Boyle said. "What wasn't good enough is our offense. It started with turnovers, but we also had some really, really good looks, the second half especially, that didn't go in. You don't want to oversimplify the game, but sometimes you have to make shots. You get open looks, you've got to be able to knock them down and we weren't able to do that in the second half. You add that to the turnovers, and it was a rough night for us."
But, Boyle added, he was still proud of his team, one that started the Pac-12 season just 2-6 but closed with an 8-2 run, then added two wins in the tournament before Friday night's loss.
"I do not fault our guys' effort," he said. "I don't fault their toughness. I don't fault anything about them. I love this group. I love this team. We've really grown as a team and I think our program has grown. And the good news is every one of these guys in uniform tonight are coming back next year."
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado led 33-27 at the half after an excellent first half, one in which the Buffs hit 11 of 23 field goal tries, with Bey scoring nine points and collecting five rebounds and Schwartz scoring all eight of his points.
But the Huskies erupted with a 16-2 run after intermission to take a 43-35 edge with 14:02 to go and stayed in command the rest of the game. The Buffs missed their first eight field goal tries and compounded their problems with five turnover, which the Huskies converted into seven points.
Boyle refused to use fatigue as an excuse for the Buffs' second-half woes. But fact is, Colorado played just seven players in two of its three games in Las Vegas, with all seven logging at least 20 minutes Friday night. Wright was on the floor for 39 minutes.
"I'm not going to blame it on fatigue," Boyle said. "... Our defense, our rebounding was really good this whole tournament. But tonight our offense and taking care of the ball wasn't good enough. I don't know if fatigue was a factor not. We're not certainly going to use that as an excuse. I thought we had enough juice in the tank to win tonight; we just didn't make enough shots and we turned the ball over too much."
The Buffs momentarily halted UW's momentum with a Bey basket at the 12:40 mark, and he added a free throw 30 seconds later to cut the Huskies' cushion to five, 43-38. But Washington answered with a 9-0 run to take a 14-point lead, 52-38, with 8:57 to go. Colorado had seven turnovers in the first 11 minutes of the half, which Washington converted into 11 points.
Colorado, though, refused to quit. The Buffs slowly cut the Washington lead back to single digits, finally pulling to four, 60-56, with 1:01 to play on a pair of Bey free throws, and again with 26.2 on the clock when Bey tipped in a miss at the rim, 62-58.
But the Huskies hit two free throws to bump the margin back to six before Wright hit his first field goal of the evening, a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to pull Colorado to within three, 64-61.
Washington, however, iced the win with a David Crisp layup for the final points of the game with 13 seconds remaining.
"We tried to get the ball inside against that zone, it was a little difficult for us at times," Boyle said. "We weren't able to knock enough shots down from the perimeter to kind of spread them out, which is what you have to do against Washington."
In the first half, the Buffs had the Huskies on their heels, including getting two quick fouls on Thybulle. Colorado burst from the gate to take a quick 8-0 lead, and although Washington responded with a 9-0 run to take a momentary 21-18 edge, Colorado answered with a 10-surge to regain control. Colorado then maintained that momentum to take a six-point lead into the locker room.
Bey finished the half with nine points — more than he totaled in CU's first two tournament games — along with five rebounds.
TURNING POINT: A 16-2 Washington run to open the second half gave the Huskies momentum they never relinquished.
WHAT IT MEANS: Colorado must now wait on Sunday's postseason pairings to see if their season will be extended.
KEY STATISTICS: Colorado committed 18 turnovers, which the Huskies converted into 24 points. CU also shot just 32 percent from the floor, including an ice-cold 6-for-30 in the second half.
QUOTEWORTHY: "The good news is every one of these guys in uniform tonight are coming back next year. And I hope and I pray that this is not the end of our season this year. I really would like to keep coaching these guys. These guys I think would like to keep playing together. And we'll find out our fate Sunday night when everything settles." — CU head coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: The Buffs will wait for Sunday's NCAA and NIT tournament pairings to be announced. Colorado isn't thought to be in the NCAA mix, but with a 21-12 record and a Pac-12 semifinal appearance, the Buffs should be a strong contender for an NIT berth.