Written by Paul Fritz
Boulder, CO- Wednesday night featured a Pac-12 match up between the Colorado Buffs and the Cal Berkeley Bears, both coming in sitting at the bottom half of the standings in the conference. At 5-6, the Buffs came in still in contention to finish in the top 4, although they have a tough road in which they’ll need to win most of their remaining 6 games. A top 4 finish would give them a first round bye for the Pac-12 tournament in March.
Coming off a 12-point win last Friday over Utah, CU Head Coach Tad Boyle had high expectations for his squad. This match up ended more closely, however, as Colorado narrowly escaped with a 68-64 victory over Cal. Boyle said post game, “If we’re going to turn the thing over 19 times, and we’re going to give them 18 second chance points, look now we dodged a bullet on that.” Boyle also mentioned that the focus for Cal was to keep them to one shot per possession and getting good shots on offense. The stats suggest otherwise. The Buffs got pinned up on the boards throughout the game and it could have cost them the win, had Cal converted on second-chance shots.
The Buffs did out-shoot Cal in both halves and ended up at 50% from the field, but they struggled to take proper care of the basketball. A little more discipline on the offensive side of the ball and Colorado could have ran away with this one by double digits.
The second half began with a 28-28 tie which quickly turned to a 38-31 Buffs lead after a trifecta of 3 pointers from Lucas Siewart, George King, and Dominique Collier. From there, Freshman point guard McKinley Wright stood out as the dominant player on the floor. He finished the game with a team-high 17 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds.
Beyond his stat-line, Wright controlled the flow of the game in the final minutes. Despite a messy performance, the Buffs adjusted their offense effectively within the last 7 minutes. Nearly every possession in this period, they distributed the ball and used up all 35 seconds on the clock before getting a shot off. This wouldn’t have been possible without Wright’s tenacity. He also had two offensive rebounds, allowing them to reset their offense and run even more time off the clock. Before Cal could adjust themselves to the strategy, there was only a minute and a half left in the game. Wright eventually closed it out knocking down 7-8 free throws.
The Buffs will feel grateful to come away with the victory tonight as well, as they improved to 6-6 on the season in conference. However, they have plenty to fine-tune before their critical match up against Stanford on Sunday and Coach Boyle will not settle for anything less than exceptional.
“We didn’t concentrate, we didn’t play hard for 40 minutes, we played hard in stretches. The first part of the second half, it wasn’t there. So I’m disgusted with our performance”, he said. Perhaps the Buffs can see past tonight as just a missed opportunity that they can yet salvage against Stanford.
The Buffs will host Stanford this Sunday, 2:00 PM at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, Colorado. The Cardinal currently sits 4th in the conference with a 13-1 overall record, and 7-4 in conference. The game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network. The Cal Bears will take on the Utah Utes at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Saturday.