Senior Day started with thunderous applause for seniors Josh Fortune, Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson and Derrick White. No matter the ups and downs of their careers, no matter how many games they played at Coors Events Center, each has a distinctive legacy here at CU and were recognized as such. Because of the seniors, the Colorado Buffaloes defeated the Cal Golden Bears (19-11) in a gritty 54-46 victory.
To start the game, Colorado was as sloppy as they’ve ever been. Their offense was stagnant, over reliant on Derrick White creating shots, and ultimately ineffective. The Buffs shot a grotesque 7-28 (25%) from the field in the first half and went as long as four minutes between made baskets.
On the defensive end, the Buffs held strong, but they struggled with foul trouble and perimeter defense. In respect to the former, Gordon and Tory Miller picked up two fouls each within the first four minutes of the game; some of those calls were suspect or downright wrong, but it was difficult to see considering how thin the Buffs are down low.
Because of the foul trouble, Tad Boyle had to get creative. He went with a five-out lineup — meaning all five players on the floor could shoot from three — that had Xavier Johnson playing at center against Cal’s 7’1 Kameron Rooks. Lineups like these, which we should see a lot of next season, have virtually limitless spacing and can be lethal if shots are falling, but are only effective if they hold up defensively.
This lineup was vulnerable on defense against Cal’s post move aficionado Ivan Rabb, but it’s not like head coach Cuonzo Martin has ever seen a mismatch and thought to exploit it. Colorado’s defense survived with this lineup, and it was largely because of George King fighting Cal’s bigs and Dom Collier snagging a handful of steals. It also helped that the Golden Bears missed a bunch of layups, free throws and open jumpers.
Wesley Gordon and Tory Miller returned to action in the second half and so did watchable basketball. There were still fouls and turnovers galore, but the occasional made shot made it worth the eye pain. The moment this game went from horrendous to merely bad was when George King reenergized the team and the Coors Events Center with a thunderous put back dunk.
As the game tightened up down the stretch, Derrick White and Xavier Johnson rose to the occasion. Johnson locked down Rabb — Cal’s best player — and scored a game-high 13 second half points, including a game-changing corner three and clutch free throws in the final minutes. White shook off early struggles to put in a nice performance and finished his CEC career with a ridiculous fadeaway three that effectively sealed Colorado’s 54-46 victory.
The Buffs will play next in the Pac-12 Tournament, which begins on Wednesday, March 8. CU will likely enter as the 7th seed (Arizona State has the tie-breaker on them but still have to play Arizona) so they will play Stanford or Washington State in their first game.