The Colorado Buffaloes lost the one game they couldn’t afford to drop. Their 76-62 loss to Cal is as bad as it looks, as the Pac-12 contending Buffs couldn’t even challenge a team that’s 12-16 on the season and ranked 160th by KenPom.
McKinley Wright was the only Buff who showed up to play. The team was bogged down by Cal’s gritty play and Wright was the only one capable of creating a shot. He made all four shots he took in the first half while his teammates shot 33% from the floor. (Lucas Siewert did score 8 points himself, but I’m mad at everyone.) The Buffs can usually survive a poor offensive performance, but only if their defense is clicking and they’re drawing fouls.
As the Buffs struggled to score, the Bears put up points effortlessly. Matt Bradley, their superb sophomore, scored 17 points in the first half as he hit four three-pointers with his sweet lefty stroke. He carried his team in the half, only asking his teammates to finish inside chances. Colorado did keep the game close, but Cal pulled away to take a 38-26 lead into halftime. I thought maybe Cal would slow down as Bradley cooled off, but on the contrary his teammates were terrific in the second half.
After the break, Cal decided to packed the paint and dare the Buffs to beat them with threes. The Buffs happily settled for jumpers and launched 20 threes in the second half, which I assume is a CU record for a half. That’s the key to beating the Buffs: pack the paint, attack every player inside, and watch them settle for jumpers. UCLA proved its effectiveness and now lesser teams are using that blueprint. It’s the reason CU is in trouble in every game from here on out, because if they can’t shoot their way to a win, they’re done for.
The other trouble with this game — the reason why Cal had no problem scoring 76 on CU — is because the Buffs are playing lifeless defense. Their defensive struggles have been an on-going trend as of late, as they have struggled to stay in front of quick guards, get out-muscled by burly forwards, and lack the tenaciousness of even last season. They’re not forcing any turnovers and they’re struggling on the boards; they’re basically getting outplaying at their own game.
Hopefully these are energy and focus issues, not skill or strategy. If the Buffs keep at this — lethargic defense, uninspired offense, getting beat before the game is over — this will be a painful end to what should be an amazing season.
As a result of this loss, the Buffs are now in fourth place in the Pac-12, almost certainly not going to win the conference as we had hoped, and will surely drop from the Top 25. Even worse, they may not get a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, and they are looking at a 6- or 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament instead of a 4- or a 5-seed.
The Buffs play against Stanford on Sunday. If they play like this, they’re surely going to lose. Hopefully this is a wake-up call and Colorado gets back to where they were before this late-season slide.