Buffs Hold On To Top Cal In Pac-12 Quarterfinals
Story by Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor, CUBuffs.com
LAS VEGAS — Third-seeded Colorado survived a slow start, then held off a late Cal rally Thursday to collect a 61-58 win in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals at T-Mobile Arena.
The 23rd-ranked Buffaloes won their fifth straight game to improve to 21-7 and earn a berth in Friday’s semifinals against No. 2 tourney seed Southern California. Colorado swept the Trojans in their two regular season meetings and will try to make it three in a row in Friday’s 9:30 p.m. (MT) semifinal (ESPN).
Grant Anticevich led the Bears with 11 points while CU defensive specialist Eli Parquet held Cal’s leading scorer, Matt Bradley, to just 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Colorado trailed for much of the first half but rallied to take a 24-20 lead at intermission. CU then built as much as a 13-point cushion in the second half and still led by nine with just under two minutes to play.
The Bears, though, rallied in the final minutes to close the gap to three and a CU turnover with 11 seconds remaining gave Cal a last chance to tie the game. But a Cal 3-pointer just before the buzzer drew iron and Battey grabbed the rebound to seal the Colorado win.
Both teams shot just 38 percent from the field, but CU hit 18 of 23 free throws, held a 34-30 rebound edge and converted 14 Cal turnovers into 19 points.
“March is all about surviving and advancing, tournament basketball,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “We survived tonight and we’re advancing. But we didn’t play our best basketball and Cal had a lot to do with that … You have to figure out a way to win when you don’t play your best, we did that tonight, and we weren’t at our best. Now, we have a quick turnaround tomorrow to play the Trojans.”
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado led by four at the half, 24-20, and appeared ready to take control for good with an 11-2 run early in the second half.
Battey started the surge with an offensive rebound and putback, then got a steal on the defensive end that led to a Jeriah Horne bucket inside. Wright, who endured a tough 4-for-14 night from the floor, followed with a driving layup, Schwartz hit two free throws and Jabari Walker capped the run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
That gave Colorado a 41-30 lead, a margin they built to 52-39 with seven minutes to play.
The inside duo of Battey and Walton proved to be big for the Buffs. Walton had all nine of his points in the first half to help fuel a CU comeback before Battey scored 11 of his 15 in the second half.
“I thought Dallas was terrific in that first half,” Boyle said. “He kind of kept us in the game … Evan got going emotionally in the second half, and he plays so hard and he’s got such a passion for the game. Those guys are important to us.”
But just when the Buffs appeared to be ready to pull away, the Bears rallied to cut the deficit to four when Bradley scored seven quick points in a 10-1 Cal run.
CU, though, answered again to build a nine-point lead with under two minutes to play on a Battey basket, then withstood one more Cal rally in the final minutes for the win.
“Nothing easy is going to come in March,” Battey said. “I feel like we did what we needed to do to win this game. Obviously we can play better on the offensive end, but we guarded and that’s what our program is founded off of, and it gives us a chance to win every night, defend and rebound. So you take your wins anywhere you can get them.”
The Buffs received contributions from up and down the lineup. While Wright struggled shooting the ball, he still finished with four rebounds and three assists. Freshman Walker came off the bench to score eight points — all seemingly coming at critical moments — and grab a team-high six rebounds, while Parquet kept Bradley in check most of the night.
“Eli was terrific and did an unbelievable job,” Boyle said. “He’s a good player and he torched us in Berkeley for 27 (in a Cal win). A terrific effort from a first-team (Pac-12) All-Defensive player.”
Colorado started slowly — the Buffs missed their first seven shots — but finally came back to take the lead on a Walker three-point play with four minutes to play in the first half. CU never trailed again.
TURNING POINT: The Buffs used a 11-2 run early in the second half to build a double-digit lead. While the Bears did close the gap to three in the final minute, the Buffs never gave up the lead in the second half.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs will now make their fifth conference tournament semifinal appearance in Boyle’s 11 years in Boulder — four in the Pac-12 and one in the Big 12 … It gives them a chance to earn a three-game sweep of the Trojans, which would likely boost their NCAA Tournament seeding … Colorado has won 21 games 10 times in school history, with Boyle’s teams accounting for eight of those.
KEY STATISTICS: Colorado held a 34-30 edge on the boards … The Buffs forced 14 Cal turnovers and converted them into 19 points … CU also had a 13-5 edge in second-chance points.
QUOTEWORTHY: “It’s just who is going to execute and play best tomorrow night. We’re going to have to play well to beat them. We’re going to have to play better than we played tonight, I can promise you that, and I really believe that we will.” — CU head coach Tad Boyle on the semifinal matchup with USC.
NEXT UP: The Buffs face No. 2 seed USC, which beat Utah in double-overtime Thursday, in Friday’s 9:30 p.m. (MT) semifinal at T-Mobile on ESPN. Colorado swept the Trojans in their regular season series.
TROY ANDRE | ASSOCIATE SID/MANAGING EDITOR CUBuffs.com
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