Having knocked off three opponents in a row, including then-No. 10 Oregon, the Colorado Buffaloes finally looked like the team they supposed to be all year. The Buffs had the chance on Sunday afternoon to extend their winning streak and pull off the Bay Area sweep with a win over Cal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and the Buffs fell 77-66.
Colorado started out the game disastrously, but stormed back in the second half and nearly beat a terrific Cal team on the road. The Buffs were doomed by their poor start, but if a good loss exists, this was certainly one of them.
Making their performance more impressive, the Buffs were playing shorthanded without Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon. Both of whom sat out because of unspecified violations of team rules. Colorado held their own without them and were able to get some crucial performances from young players, but it’s hard not to think about what would’ve happened if Johnson and Gordon played.
Cal’s best player is Ivan Rabb, arguably the best post scorers in the country (and my preseason pick for the Naismith Award). To combat his post prowess and take advantage of Cal’s shooting struggles, Colorado went into a zone early and often. Unfortunately for the Buffs, they were the victims of Cal’s best shooting performance of the season and their zone was gashed therefore. The Golden Bears made a ridiculous 9 threes on 20 attempts; only once has Cal made more than 9 threes in any game this season.
While Colorado was floundering on the defensive end, they struggled to create shots against Cal’s hyper-athletic defense. Derrick White and Tory Miller (!) both looked great — they had 10 and 8 points in the first half, respectively — but not much else was working for the Buffs. But hey, they only had 4 turnovers in the first half!
The first half was terrible, but the Buffs bounced back after halftime. Led by White’s 13 consecutive points (he finished with 25), Colorado opened the second half with a 17-2 run to comeback from a 22-point deficit. During that run, the Buffs were playing fantastic team defense, hounding the glass, and running up and down the court with ease — basically, Colorado basketball in a nutshell.
As fun as that run was, it didn’t last the whole half. After 8 minutes of Colorado dominance, the Buffs’ offense went into a funk as the Bears got out of their own. The Buffs made another run at the lead later on, but it was too little and too late.
Considering what the Buffs had to play through and the quality of team Cal is, this was an encouraging performance, even with the loss. Even without their emotional leader in Xavier Johnson, the Buffs were able to refocus to come back from a massive deficit and compete with a very good Cal team.
Next up for the Buffs is a home game against the Washington Huskies on Thursday, February 9th. Tip-off is at 8:00 and the game will air on Fox Sports 1. The Huskies are quite bad at basketball (Markelle Fultz is their only good player) so CU has a great chance to avenge their overtime loss to them earlier this season.