In what may be an inflection point on this season, the Colorado Buffaloes traveled to a difficult rough environment, faced brutal mismatches, and still fought for a convincing 84-73 victory over the UCLA Bruins.
Coming off their dominant 22-point win over Oregon, the Buffs carried over their hot hand. While it was Tyler Bey who carried them past the Ducks, the early scorers tonight were Shane Gatling and D’Shawn Schwartz, two enigmatic scorers who can jumpstart the Buffs whenever they’re on their game. Schwartz’s slashing and Gatling’s gunning got CU off to an early 18-5 lead.
As expected, UCLA adjusted and CU needed to respond. Interim coach Murry Bartow switched to an aggressive zone that in years past would flummox Colorado teams. But, weirdly, this of all CU teams is the one that has figured out zone defenses (unless they’re very aggressive and very long, as we saw later). They started to moving the ball even more than they did in the opening minutes. On one Lucas Siewert’s three pointers, CU made 8 passes (!) on the possession to find him open in the corner. (Fortunately there’s no video, because it’s against our guidelines to post sexually explicit content.)
But that offensive solution didn’t quite last the half. UCLA tightened its defense around the massive Moses Brown (and his 4 blocks and 4 steals). With the length the Bruins had on the floor, they funneled CU’s ball handlers to the middle where prying hands forced turnovers and Brown awaited as menacing force. With their defense suddenly locked, all UCLA had to do was hit some shots to cut down CU’s lead. What had been a 13-point deficit quickly turned into just a 38-37 halftime lead for the Buffs.
It looked as if the Bruins’ momentum had carried over into the second half. It goes back to Brown, whose size overwhelmed the Buffs on both sides. When dealing with a 7’1 athletic specimen, there’s not much you can do, especially when you’re as undersized as the Buffs. CU looked afraid to go at the rim, and for good reason. CU only ended up losing the rebounding battle 32-29, but for much of the half, UCLA was dominating with a nearly 2:1 advantage. It was via the boards and paint it looked UCLA would control this game.
They didn’t take control, however, because of Gatling. What had been a hot start for Gatling turned into a career night. As Colorado struggled to create opportunities, he carried the offense with 16 of the team’s first 20 second half points. Just it looked like CU was going to give in, Gatling’s hot hand turned the tides completely. He finished with 28 points (22 in half) on 8-10 shooting (7-9 3-pt., 5-6 FT) and pitched in 5 assists, including this beauty to Bey.
With just three minutes, McKinley Wright hit a three to give the Buffs a 12-point lead. It was the dagger. The rest of the time they spent running out the clock in their double digit road victory over a talented squad.
Next up for CU is an away game at USC on Saturday (8:00 p.m., ESPNU). The Trojans pose different matchup issues than the Bruins, so it will be seen if Colorado can continue their terrific play and complete the sweep.