Just as they did in their first round victory over California, the Colorado Buffaloes scared all of us and nearly blew a lead in a win-or-go-home battle against Oregon State. After building a 21-point second half lead, the Buffs almost collapsed, but they hung on for the 73-57 win. They will now face #1 Washington with a trip to the Pac-12 Championship on the line.
Colorado started the game sloppily, but they are much more adept at fighting in the mud than their counterparts. Chippy and physical, CU allowed only a handful of cleans looks in the first half and gave the Beavers all kinds of fits inside. Even with Tyler Bey sidelined for much of the half (and the game), the Buffs controlled the paint and the boards despite OSU having a troll living underneath the basket in Kylor Kelley. That credit would go to Evan Battey and Alexander Strating, whose ass and grit, respectively, set the tone physically and emotionally.
Once the Buffaloes got hot while playing defense like that, they were off to the races. Led by Shane Gatling, McKinley Wright and Strating, they finished the half with a commanding 37-18 lead. Against a usually stout Beavers defense, the Buffs broke through the dam and flooded the scoreboard with threes. It was in these 15 or so minutes where Colorado looked like they had finally put it all together, which was even more impressive considering Bey has not looked himself the past couple days.
Colorado’s halftime lead extended to 21, but instead of getting blackjack in Las Vegas, they busted. (Sorry, these metaphors are awful but I am contractually obligated to write them.) That’s when, coincidentally, our Twitter account started talking trash and tempting the Wrath of God. We apparently have latent jinxing ability and CU was effected mostly on the defensive end. After forcing the volume-shooting Tres Tinkle into a woeful first half, he suddenly caught fire alongside a suddenly potent Ethan Thompson. Once they saw the ball go through the net, they played with much more confidence and forced Colorado into mistakes.
Colorado’s many mistakes cannot be overlooked. The Beavers goaded them into foul trouble once they realized the refs had a tight whistle. After Battey was hit with his fourth foul and Bey returned to the bench, it looked like the wheels might come off. What had been a 21-point lead turned into a 10-point lead, then 6 points, then everyone started to panic. Then CU started getting to the line, Strating hit a clutch shot, Battey converted a layup and the Buffs had room to breathe again. They soon pulled away in the final two minutes to turn a near-collapse into a 15-point in which they never trailed.
Colorado ended up shooting 23-27 from the free throw line, and unlike when they shot 16-26 in their 2-point to OSU at home, that shooting ended up preventing collapse. Every time it looked like the Beavers might pull through, CU drew fouls and converted at the line. So yeah, CU is advancing in the Pac-12 Tournament and have a decent chance of making the NCAA Tournament because of clutch free throws and Alex Strating balling out. As the great American poet Jon Rothstein wrote, “This. Is. March.”
Also we made a bet with the Oregon State blog Building The Dam (now named Poking The Rodent) and they had to write kind words about the Ralphie Report, the greatest blog on SB Nation.
Tomorrow’s game is against top-seeded Washington at 7:00 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks. Washington is scary and presents matchup issues for CU, but they have looked vulnerable lately. They have in the past three weeks lost to Cal, nearly lost to Stanford and Oregon State, was blown out by Oregon, and nearly lost today to USC before Nick Rakocevic fittingly threw away the Trojans’ season. CU can’t win without Bey back to normal, but the time is ripe for an upset. And if CU can win tomorrow, there is nothing stopping them from dancing like it’s 2012.