Against a UCLA Bruins team that is bigger, more athletic, and more talented than them, the Colorado Buffaloes understood that if they play smarter and harder, they could bridge that gap to make it a close game. And if they hit some clutch shots, had the home crowd behind them, and had the refs in their favor, maybe, just maybe, they could pull off this upset. Lmao jk Colorado is very clearly the better team, beat UCLA by 11 in Los Angeles, and, to be completely honest, the 93-68 final score was closer than it should have been. Roll Tad.
As the Buffs played physical defense and forced UCLA into shooting 1/10 from the field in the opening minutes, their offense found its stroke early and a built a 10-point that they held for much of the half. The Buffs hit 4 of their first 5 three-pointers and pounded the ball inside. Everyone was involved in the scoring from Tyley Bey’s wet mid-range jumper, to Evan Battey creating from the high post, to Lucas Siewert hitting a pair of difficult threes, and even Alex Strating channeling Hakeem Olajuwon on an up-and-under. Bey and Shane Gatling ended up dominating the box score, but it was a team effort to get the ball in the basket.
Colorado’s hot hand cooled off, though, when UCLA’s defense tightened up and stopped allowing wide open shots. (Most teams should try to avoid giving up wide open shots, imo.) The Bruins never took the lead in the first half, but they did cut the deficit to 4 at the six-minute mark. The early part of their comeback effort was aided quite a bit by the stripes, who had a tight whistle against a physical (but fair!) Colorado defense; they scored most of their early points at the line and the Buffs had to reel back their signature defensive style.
Just as it appeared UCLA might have gone on a run, Tad Boyle called timeout after a breakaway dunk by Kris Wilkes and apparently lit into the team for letting up. Colorado responded by re-setting the tone with aggressive play. Their mini-run was capped off with a filthy layup by McKinley Wright at the buzzer.
Colorado carried over this strong play into the second half and didn’t let up until the game was decided. Just as they did in the opening minutes of the first half, they crashed the boards hard — and I mean hard, in the case of Gatling and Bey throwing down putback dunks — and got to the rim seemingly at will. Once they started hitting outside shots and getting to the line, there was nothing UCLA could do to avoid getting repeatedly gashed.
On the other end, CU showed why they’re the second best defense in the Pac-12 despite being younger than most — mainly, when they’re focused, they don’t give an inch of space and they beat you up without committing fouls. UCLA has talented scorers in Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as the giant known as Moses Brown, but there was nothing they do against that defense.
It doesn’t matter that UCLA has long been in a funk of unfulfilled potential, it didn’t really matter who was on the floor with Colorado playing as they did. UCLA is probably lucky this game was only a 25-point loss.
Besides Bey and his 27 points and 13 rebounds, the star of this cathartic win was Gatling. He scored 26 points and was contributing everywhere else on the floor. He had that putback dunk, got to the line for 10 points, created points in transition, played smart defense, and even though he shot just 2-7 from three, he created space for the offense simply because he’s a threat. Gatling is only shooting 37% from the field and 34% from three this season, but by contributing as he does he has been a vital compliment to Wright and Bey as the team’s most important offensive players. He’s been the two-way combo guard we always hoped Josh Fortune and Namon Wright would become. If you haven’t celebrated Gatling yet, please take the time to do so.
Next up for Colorado is their home finale against the USC Trojans. Colorado beat USC in Los Angeles, 69-65, and they’ll look to outplay them again in Boulder. With USC presumably losing at Utah (Utah is winning 42-36 at halftime at the time of publication), the Buffs will need to beat USC and have UCLA beat Utah for Colorado to jump into the fourth seed for the Pac-12 Tournament. If Utah doesn’t lose to a bad team, then the Buffs will be playing mostly for pride and the 5th seed, which would mean a first and second round matchups with Cal and Utah, respectively.